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Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2020 Presents Neil Shanks, Senior Site Manager

Neil Shanks, Senior Site Manager explains his career journey to date and how an apprenticeship with West Lothian Council at the age of 17 has lead him to Thomas Johnstone Ltd. After celebrating his 15th anniversary with TJL, Neil remains a very well respected employee amongst his colleagues thanks to his efforts and attitude on site.


Apprenticeship Journey

Having finished school at 17 I knew I wanted to go straight into an apprenticeship and at that time West Lothian Council had an influx of joinery opportunities. I found the council apprenticeship presented a great opportunity to work on a variety of projects in differing sectors and I thoroughly enjoyed learning from the ground up. 

Similar to Scott Cuthbert, my training was very hands on with the first year of my apprenticeship being workshop-based in order to learn the basic joinery skills required. Once I enhanced my skills I was then given more responsibility - I would go out to site and measure said window or door, come back to the workshop, run the material and assemble it. I would carry out this process and then go back to site and fit the materials.

After successfully completing my 3 year joinery apprenticeship I was relocated to Leeds and began working on numerous hospital sites and commercial projects which was a great opportunity to learn from other tradesmen and expand my knowledge. From here, my career progressed and in the early 2000’s I started working as a sub-contractor for Thomas Johnstone Ltd on site at Edinburgh Airport. It was here that I met the TJL team and after proving my work ethic and professional abilities on site, I was then asked to work at Centrica, Grantown as a full time Site Supervisor, working my way up the ranks to where I am today.

“I believe doing my apprenticeship elsewhere saw me bring a different perspective to the company, a good one.”

What are some important attributes you believe an apprentice should have?

I am very proud of my trade and I think this is vital. I have always ensured I work to the best of my ability and do the diverse trade of joinery justice. This comes thanks to all of the excellent tradesmen who I have learnt from during my time and I believe our current apprentices should recognise this and capitalise on the help around them.

“I took pride in what I did then and I still do now, and I like to instil that pride in any apprentice that I work with.”

How do you help and support any apprentices you have under your remit?

Everyone on site plays a part in making the apprentices’ journey what it is. We rely on all of our guys to show the apprentices how to act and behave, we set the example and we expect them to follow. I try to make sure I am approachable and available - helping our apprentices is something I am passionate about as that was once me!

“I love supporting young adults like George, our current second year apprentice here on site, helping him to build up his tool kit, his expertise and his professionalism.”

What have been some of your favourite projects?

Quintiles, Edinburgh – This is my biggest job to date coming in at £12.6million!

Oban Bay Hotel – We were based in the coastal town of Oban for the entirety of this project and it meant there was a great atmosphere, we had good fun while getting the job done.

White Stuff, Edinburgh – This project presented numerous challenges however we overcame each one and presented the unit to a delighted client!               

Final Thoughts

I have had numerous apprentices cross my door during my 15 years here at Thomas Johnstone Ltd and having once been in that position myself I feel I have the insight to offer unique support. My advice would always be to try your best and ensure you find a good company, like TJL, to carry out your apprenticeship.

“The word talent to me is not about luck and more about making opportunities for yourself through training programmes such as an apprenticeship.”

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