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A qualified workforce: The grass is greener where it's watered

18 June 2013
Mark Priestman discusses training opportunities for the stone industry.

Mark Priestman has more than 20 years’ experience in the natural stone sector. He plays an active role in the development and delivery of training in this specialist environment. Along with his father, David Priestman, he runs a training consultancy whose mantra is: Qualify the Workforce!

If it is true that the grass is always greener where it gets watered, then a specialist contractor will always be most successful where its assets and talents are being nurtured and recognised.

For many years, Stonewest’s commitment to the NVQ has impressed me, not only at apprentice level but right through the ranks of its skilled workers, heritage workers and site supervisors to the lofty heights of conservation management.

As an assessor, I was particularly happy to work through to completion with Mark Chmielewski and James Kennett on their level 6 NVQs in Construction Site Management: Conservation. Their moms and significant others will be very proud when Mark’s and James’ diplomas hit the door mat. And rightly so.

Both Mark and James are relatively youthful, yet they have been nurtured by their employer and have gained much expertise in our specialist sector, running multiple projects, handling large mixed teams, understanding conservation values and working to a quality-finish deadline.

Well done chaps… and well done to your bosses who had the courage to do the watering.

I know several other contractors with similar credentials – the likes of Stone Restoration Services, Szerelmey and Triton. So hats off to you all for consistently maintaining a programme of qualifying your workforce from apprentices through to the seniors, year in and year out.


Despite the economic rain clouds, it is good to have experienced a new phenomenon at our consultancy.

So far in 2013 the customer base – the number of employers using our services for NVQ facilitation – has tripled.

Now, that’s not the whole story. Candidature is well down, as is the profit margin. Nevertheless, the number of businesses wanting to qualify their workforce is much increased and that can only be good for the sector.

Another first for Priestman Associates was a trip to Her Majesty’s Prison Rochester.

Travelling through Rochester was a pleasure. What a beautiful city – full of great structural heritage. The rain clouds followed us, so a return journey to look around is on the ‘to do’ list. After getting lost and being re-directed to a small village called Borstal (yes, Borstal!), we eventually found the prison. Or should I say prisons.

Our meeting was with a charity called Changing Paths (an initiative of the Wates family). It has installed a masonry workshop inside the prison grounds with the purpose of providing training for some of the shorter tariff inmates – and there is a strict internal admission policy in place to get on the programme.

Several firms have assisted in this project, including CWO (Adam Stone), Portland Stone Firms (Neil Fuller), Glebe Stone (Nick Bristow) and Salisbury Cathedral (Gary Price).

I have to say dad and I were hugely impressed by the focus of the learners and their request for feedback on their work.

My personal best wishes to the charity’s team of Mark Kennett, Scott Merritt and Maria Oliver, and also to Prison Governor Andy Hudson, who Changing Paths tell me has been instrumental in giving the necessary green lights to the project.

Happily, the initiative has already seen work placements being offered, although Changing Paths would welcome more interest in that regard. You can look them up at


I am planning a series of columns dedicated to essential training and qualifications for the contractor.

This series will look at essential first aider requirements, the safety-plus training range and the various routes into NVQ and their tie-in with CSCS.

If there are courses you’d like me to look at, or you have thoughts on, or issues relating to the training and qualifying of the workforce, I am only an email away – [email protected]

Mark Priestman is a Partner at Priestman Associates LLP, a leading façade preservation project consultancy. From stonemasonry and heritage skills through to Site Supervision and Conservation Management, the partnership is trusted by the leading brands of the sector as an NVQ provider for experienced, upskiller and apprentice workers.


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