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WITH four A-levels under his belt, university seemed the obvious next step for brainy Chris Shaw.

But within months he had dropped out to become a labourer - and reckons it was the best decision he ever made.

"The student life just wasn't for me so I decided to leave and see what else I could do," says Chris, 24, of Doncaster.

"I was looking around at various jobs, but then my dad Michael, who runs his own construction firm, said he had a vacancy for a labourer.

"I enjoyed it and got on well with the people I worked with. From there I got the chance to work with a lot of different people and develop a range of skills, from bricklaying to plastering.

"Then I started helping a friend with a painting and decorating project and found I really liked it and wanted to learn more.

"Some people imagine decorating is just picking up a brush and splashing paint around, but there is much more to it than that.

"You have to know all about the different techniques, the paints themselves and the surfaces, whether there are defects and if so, how to deal with them.

"What I love about decorating is that you are following other craftsmen who have already brought the building up to an excellent standard, and you have the opportunity to finish it off and turn it into something spectacular."

Having decided decorating was right for him, Chris began a painting and decorating apprenticeship, which meant splitting his time between working on site and studying at Doncaster College.

"I found college wasn't at all like university - it was mostly hands-on work and there was always something new to learn. I spent two years working for the NVQ Level 2 and though a lot of people are happy to stop there, I decided to spend a third year achieving the NVQ Level 3, which included specialised skills such as marbling and graining."

It proved to be time well spent, as Chris used those skills to win the prestigious National Apprentice of the Year 2011 award at an annual competition run by Dulux Decorator Centres.

He is also striking out on his own, having launched his own company, Oak Apple Decor, with the help of his dad.

"We do some domestic work, but concentrate mainly on commercial decorating, particularly working on local schools," he says.

"We've been decorating the classrooms and stairways at a local school during the holidays. When you are working on schools, your "busy time" is the opposite of everyone else - you are hard at work when everyone else is on holiday. But the week after the children go back to school, I'll be off on holiday to Florida with my girlfriend Marisa." And Chris says he is thoroughly enjoying becoming a boss.

"I think I've built up good relationships with people and have two other decorators working for me, as well as my own apprentice, Luke, who is doing some really good work.

"Taking on an apprentice feels like completing a circle." And Chris has no regrets at all about turning his back on an academic career.

"I wasn't enjoying the course or the lifestyle and it was costing m o n e y, so it seemed pointless to carry on," he says. "I've found that there is just as much to learn in this career. In fact next year I'm planning to go back to college to study to become an estimator, which means being able to cost an entire project, taking into account the amount of time it will take, materials, labour and the equipment it will need.

"That's what's great about the construction industry. You can start at the bottom and there is nothing at all to stop you going as far as you want."

Dulux Decorator Centres offer help and advice on how to become a painter and decorator and also run a range of learning courses, including pre-apprenticeship programmes for newcomers. A new series of these courses is due to begin in autumn. For more information about Dulux, visit


To anyone considering a career in construction, Chris offers this advice: "If you aren't sure exactly what you want to do,consider one of the general construction courses that colleges offer.You can experience a range of different crafts and find out what is right for you." For more information about joining the industry, including getting your career started with some valuable work experience, visit And to find out more about how to begin an apprenticeship, get online and visit


BOSS Chris now has his own business MENTOR Chris with dad Michael
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 11, 2011
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