Forty-something Darren: not your average apprentice

darren skill buildFormer landscape gardener Darren Nicol, 42, is no stranger to a hard day’s – or night’s – work.

After an 18-year stint laying and rearranging gardens, lawns and trees, he spent six years working night shifts in a factory for a contact lens company.

The Hamilton man decided it was time for a serious career change though, after the long hours and lack of time with his six year-old autistic son started to get him down.

“I felt stagnant in my job. My partner had to deal with me being constantly tired and grumpy,” he said.

“I only used to have a Friday and Saturday afternoon off to spend with Caleb. As time went on, I became more and more frustrated, and so did he.”

To help his partner to cope with the challenges of looking after a child with autism, Darren decided to look for a job that freed up more time for him to spend with his young son.

“I had a couple of friends who worked for Bell Group as painters and decorators. They recommended an adult apprenticeship. I’d previously wallpapered and painted my own home, and so I felt pretty confident I could do it well.”

Darren began his apprenticeship last August and attends South Lanarkshire College while working for Bell in Kirkcaldy.

“So far I’ve learned a range of new skills, including painting on metal and timber, stenciling and even advanced artwork and craft such as applying gold leaf.”

Not only is he enjoying the combination of work and study, Darren has already proved he has a real talent for painting and decorating. He won second place as a ‘new entrant’ in the painting and decorating competition at Thursday’s SkillBuild 2017 regional heat, held at South Lanarkshire College and organised by CITB (Construction Industry Training Board), which funds Darren’s apprenticeship.

“I’m 42, and I’m still learning, every single day. I’m the oldest person in my class by a long way – the others are all in their late teens or early twenties – but I really enjoy the challenge of working with youngsters.”

“The best thing about working in the construction industry, apart from allowing me so much more time with my son, is that it has changed who I am, in a good way. It’s not just the work/life balance that everyone talks about that I’ve been able to achieve. I now actually have a job that I look forward to going to every day.

“I didn’t realise that all this would be possible, now that I’m in my forties. I feel happier. My partner says I’m a different person – and in my book, that’s definitely a positive thing!

“Hopefully one day I’ll be able to work for myself. The ability to plan my life around my family, rather than my job, really appeals to me. This industry allows me to do that.”

And Darren’s advice to anyone considering a career change to construction?

“Take the chance!” he says. “I took the chance, and it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.”