Young mum Emma’s design for life

Painting and decorating apprentice Emma Louise MacKenzie knows what it takes to turn an old piece of furniture into something new and beautiful, using just a few clever paint and wallpaper tricks.

The 23 year-old upcycling fan from Inverness clearly knows her art – she won first 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.

But creative Emma wasn’t always aware of her own talents.

At 18, Emma fell pregnant – and her life drastically changed.

“I found myself in a situation similar to many other single mothers,” she said. “How could I afford to live, find a job I love and look after my little girl all at the same time?”

“I got a couple of part time jobs – a cleaner in a hospital and some shifts in a call centre. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, although I wasn’t sure what else I could do, and I found it a bit depressing.”

“As soon as I got a new flat though, I started decorating and upcycling things. I really enjoyed being creative and I discovered I was pretty good at it. It inspired me to go on and make a career of it – I just thought, ‘it’s now or never!’”

In 2015, Emma began a part time introductory course for a national progression award (NPA) at Inverness College. She spent the remainder of the week completing work experience placements with New Start Highland, learning new upcycling, recycling and painting skills.

“Combining my college training with work experience meant that I could apply for jobs at the same time. I soon got a new role with Nodram decorators in Inverness, and now I’m in the first year of my apprenticeship at Inverness College. I never thought it would be possible for me to earn and learn at the same time, and better still, I’m doing something that I really love. I’m very lucky to have a supportive family, who help to look after my little girl while I’m working.”

“So far, I’ve learned loads more about myself and the skills I’m capable of. I started off thinking that upcycling was my favourite thing to do, but now I’ve discovered it’s wallpapering! I like it because it’s such a challenge, you just have to have a little patience.”

Emma will qualify in 2019, after which a range of career options will be available to her.

“I’ve been thinking about the possibility of studying for a degree in construction management, but I also like the idea of becoming self-employed. The thought of running my own upcycling-based business and having clients interested in interior design is very exciting.”

Emma hopes that her experience will show other young women that becoming a single parent at a young age doesn’t necessarily spell an end to career ambitions. “At first, getting a job was all about securing a better future for my daughter. Now, it’s actually about me too. Working in the construction industry has allowed me to make a success of myself. I’m really looking forward to the future.”

Last year, Emma won the ‘Student of the Year’ award in her NPA class. And, as a winner in one of 15 CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) SkillBuild 2017 regional competition heats, Emma will have the opportunity to progress to the SkillBuild national final competition at the NEC Birmingham. From there, she may also have the opportunity to go on to represent the United Kingdom in international skills competitions such as EuroSkills and WorldSkillsemma skill build