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Building firm ‘facing closure after Brexit’

Loss of Polish workers will leave skills gap that apprenticeship schemes can’t fill, warns boss

25 August, 2017 — By Emily Finch

Managing director Norman Barrs with his City and Guilds qualifications

THE boss of one of Islington’s oldest building firms has said the business may close after Brexit if his Polish workers leave, because apprenticeship schemes fail to produce craftspeople to replace them.

Norman Barrs, managing director of Henry Hardy, which has been in Canonbury for 160 years, has campaigned to increase the number and quality of apprentices in the borough for more than six years.

He wrote to former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2011, igniting a national debate about the failure of apprenticeship schemes, but he says nothing has changed since then.

“We will simply disappear because there are no craftsmen left,” he said.

His firm bills itself as a “good old-fashioned build­ing company” specialising in restoring old homes.

According to Mr Barrs, the training courses on offer at most colleges in the country fail to provide on-the-job training for young people because of strict health and safety regulations on building sites.

Henry Hardy has been in Canon­bury for 160 years

He said the training he received in the 1940s at the Northern Polytechnic Institute, in Holloway Road – London Metropolitan University now occupies the site – provided him with practical building skills, knowledge which he says current apprentices lack.

“What happened there was that the bricklayers built a house,” said Mr Barrs. “The carpenters and joiners did all the timber work and the plumbers did all the metal work.

“When we finished a house we tore it down and started again. Now, this is the way to learn. When I left the polytechnic I left fully qualified.”

Mr Barrs says he has not had a job or apprenticeship application from anyone living in the borough in the past four years.

He says he has never been invited by the Town Hall to give a career talk about jobs in the construction industry and thinks “the building trade is not considered by teachers to be suitable employment”.

“There are many young people who would probably like to come into the building industry. On average you can earn £35,000,” he said.

“At 14 years of age I was the biggest rebel in Kentish Town, according to my father. I had great difficulty reading and writing. At 16 I was at the polytechnic. I never looked back, because I had a fantastic education.

“There is now no interest other than in a university education.”

A Town Hall spokesman said: “We’re committed to helping local residents into employment and creating apprenticeships with local employers. Last year, we placed 122 residents into apprenticeships with a range of local businesses. We are fortunate to have a leading construction skills training centre in King’s Cross.”

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