In the second of a series of articles for Builders’ Merchants News we focus on Lawsons’ approach towards recruiting, retaining, and developing its people.

Careers in merchanting: Lawsons

As we enter 2019, the skills shortage is still one of the biggest challenges faced by the construction industry and more needs to be done to attract new blood into the sector. Nationwide campaigns such as ‘Build a Career Without Limits’ have an important role to play in educating young people and career switchers, but it’s vital they are backed up with real opportunities. One company striving to present a genuine career path in merchanting is Lawsons.


Founded in 1921, it is the largest family-owned independent timber, fencing and builders’ merchant in London and the South East. The firm’s Chairman, Simon Lawson, is himself a case study of how capable professionals can find success and fulfilment in merchanting.


Having graduated from Bristol University, Simon began working in the corporate sector and started an MBA. But he became disillusioned with corporate life when it became clear the focus was exclusively on targets and budgets, rather than on people. Lawson was attracted to the family business because it allowed him to build the company around the needs of employees rather than those of shareholders.


Passionate about nurturing potential, he has made personal development programmes, BMF courses, in-house training, and job rotation available to staff at all levels. And Lawson is adamant that a clear and achievable career path is key to keeping staff motivated and loyal. There are real life examples of this throughout Lawsons, such as Commercial Director Jeremy Norris, who started in Lawsons’ yard at the age of 26 and progressed up the organisation, completing an MBA on the way.


As well as offering apprenticeships, the company provides a graduate trainee scheme, which has proved very successful, with each of the current trainees praising its quality. Graduate Andrew Loh has been impressed with the level of instruction: “The training programmes at Lawsons are well organised, covering a wide range of subjects. It’s put us ahead of the game.”


The emphasis at Lawsons is making work enjoyable and rewarding, providing a social and structured environment in which employees feel they belong and have a stake. It’s clearly working, as graduate Joe Ahern describes: “I get up and go to work at Lawsons because it’s a great environment – everyone is welcoming and friendly, and it’s easy to get on with your day.”


Another graduate trainee, Joe Seward, has been running transport at the Crowthorne branch of Lawsons. As a newcomer to merchanting, he was most struck by the volume of stock turned over every day: “The sheer scale of the operation is simply staggering,” he says.


The graduates are aware of the opportunities the sector can offer, and have very clear ambitions for themselves. Seward and Loh say they see management in their future. “I want to make my own mark within the company,” says Loh. Seward is now Assistant Branch Manager.


With such a wide range of job roles at all levels, Lawsons is demonstrating that for those willing to work hard and learn new skills, there is a fantastic career waiting in the sector.  As Ahern puts it: “The advice I would give someone taking a graduate scheme in the merchant industry is to grab it by the horns. It may be difficult at first, but once you grasp the essentials, you’ll be great.”


If you are interested in an exciting career in merchanting, get in touch with Lawsons by emailing: [email protected]

Also watch Lawson’ video on its graduate trainee programme below.