For 18-year-old Ollie Harper Nash, living with an undiagnosed learning difficulty made for a rather challenging journey through secondary school.

The Leeds native's life path has been far from conventional. Throughout his educational career, he was regularly moved from one school to another, which was very unsettling for him as he had to adapt to new environments and form fresh friendships at a time he needed stability and consistency in his life.

At one point in Year 10, Harper Nash had to be home-schooled as he waited to move to a new school. His anchor and source of strength through these upheavals was the steadfast bond he shared with his dad, as well as the support of his two older brothers.

Harper Nash remembered: “It was a difficult time in my life, having to constantly change schools and struggling to fit in and make new friends. I don’t know how I would have coped without the support of my family, and my dad has been an absolute rock for me. Although I’ve always lived in Leeds, I would visit Wales during the summer holidays to spend time with him.”

During this time, it became clear to his family that the school he was at could not provide the support he needed to cope with his unique learning style, and he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The condition brought its own set of challenges, but Harper Nash has been managing it with medication for about five years now, which has considerably increased his productivity levels and concentration.

Although Harper Nash did not attain Maths and English qualifications, he remained undaunted and began to explore various work placements, from healthcare to retail. Ultimately, he found his calling in the world of building materials when he secured an apprenticeship with Leeds-based commercial plumbing and pipeline merchant, Mathewson & Rosemond Ltd.

Working as a builders’ merchant apprentice, Harper Nash has discovered a passion for hands-on, practical work. He wanted to do something that would challenge him beyond his comfort zone, and the apprenticeship has proven to be the right mix of practical learning and academic study.

Harper Nash said of his working experience so far: “My responsibilities include overseeing document scanning, managing goods receiving, and providing valuable assistance to the warehouse manager.

“Of course, I have ambitions extending beyond warehousing and in due time I would like to explore other facets of the business, including sales, accounts, procurement, and e-commerce.”

In his apprenticeship journey, Harper Nash is learning the value of paying attention to detail and maintaining accurate data, recognising that even minor errors can have far-reaching implications. He is demonstrating growth in teamwork and has acquired an understanding of the diverse skill sets of his colleagues and how to work and communicate with them effectively to deliver a great team performance.

Harper Nash's weekly schedule comprises three hours a week for his apprenticeship studies split between Mondays and Fridays. His mentors, Oliver Wilson and Cameron Smith, who are also his line managers, are guiding him through the intricacies of the business and patiently sharing their vast knowledge and expertise of the builders merchant sector. Their expertise provides a sturdy foundation upon which Harper Nash can build his promising career.

Harper Nash speaked highly of the advantages of the apprenticeship approach, saying: “I've always preferred hands-on learning over traditional classrooms. The apprenticeship approach allows me to learn and apply the skills in a real-world setting. I can see immediate results and make a visible impact on the business.”

Harper Nash’s apprenticeship programme is delivered by LEAP, which specialises in the construction industry. Leading builders’ merchant buying society, NMBS, is working with LEAP and the BMF to train scores of builders' merchant apprentices each year to help address the skills gap in the construction sector.

Dean Hayward, NMBS head of sales and marketing, said: "Ollie's journey exemplifies how practical experience can be a catalyst for personal and professional growth, and how this approach can greatly benefit the construction sector. His decision to opt for an apprenticeship over traditional higher education is a pathway that we are encouraging other young people to consider. It comes with no student debt and offers a solid and fulfilling career.”

Harper Nash’s journey from struggling student to a rising star in the construction industry is evidence of the transformative power of determination and practical learning. His story is one of personal growth and a shining example of how apprenticeships can shape the future of the construction sector.