Tok of the town: videos show a different side of construction

Chris Keel with his Screwfix trade apprentice award

A young Glasgow-based construction worker is using the power of social media to build his business and help encourage more youngsters to consider careers in the industry.

Chris Keel founded Keel’s Joinery & Construction after completing an apprenticeship in carpentry and joinery at Glasgow construction company City Building.

Despite being a fledgling business, Keel’s Joinery & Construction has already amassed over 81,000 followers on video-focused social media network TikTok, and over 13,000 followers on Instagram. Chris posts regular photos and videos of his projects, which has helped secure new work and also serves to highlight the positive aspects of the industry to a new audience.

At the age of just 21, Chris triumphed over 1,400 applicants from across the UK in the Screwfix Trade Apprentice competition in 2020, earning himself £5,000 worth of tools, £2,000 worth of technology, and £3,000 worth of education in the process.  This, he told Project Scotland, has helped elevate his business to probably five years ahead of where he would have expected it to be at this point.

“My girlfriend Jodie works in the business full-time, looking after social media and admin,” he said. “We have a labourer who works for us every day. Another boy worked for us for three months to gain experience and we managed to get him an apprenticeship with another company, so we’re able to help people get into work.”

Chris started out doing projects including garden rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, and joinery work. As the company has grown, so too has the capacity for taking on larger jobs. At the time of interview, he had three extensions booked in already for this year and has also started undertaking loft and garage conversions.

It’s a fantastic success story for a young man who only took his first steps into the construction sector in 2017, having previously given the industry little thought.

“I worked at B&Q and was at college studying music,” he said. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. My brother got an apprenticeship and became a floor layer. Then some pals got apprenticeships. I decided one day I wanted to start applying for apprenticeships.”

After applying unsuccessfully for hundreds of posts, Chris was delighted to be recruited by City Building for a carpentry and joinery apprenticeship. He quickly discovered he had a real flair for the work and never looked back, quickly gaining the confidence to branch out on his own.

Trying to grow a business during a pandemic has not been without its challenges, with Chris highlighting the rising cost of materials and increasing number of self-employed workers entering the marketplace.

Standing out in such a competitive environment is paramount, and Chris has benefited from his innovative use of social media to showcase the quality of his work.

“Instagram is where we get most of our jobs from,” he stated. “On TikTok, we get so many young people (watching our videos). I know for a fact that we are influencing young people. We’re trying to show it can be a fun job. When I was at school, it was always ‘university, university, university’.”

The firm’s TikTok videos range from footage taken during the course of the work through to tool demonstrations and, of course, the finished products.

Chris hopes that by engaging with the younger generation, more people will be inspired to consider following in his footsteps. His advice for would-be construction workers is simple – get experience.

“I knew nothing about the construction when I was at school,” he said. “Loads of companies will take people on and offer experience. Don’t just sit about and wait (for an opportunity). You need to find out what trades you want to do; find out what you’re passionate about.”