In order to ensure the UK industry is ready for increasing competition and growth, I am determined that we forge even closer links between educational institutions and the industry.
At Balfour Beatty, we will continue to offer our expertise to drive enhancements to school and college curricula, provide opportunities for work placements and develop more courses and qualifications relating to science, technology, engineering and maths.
We must aim to bring construction to the attention of students at an early age, starting with primary school children, working with organisations such as the CITB where we visit schools or invite children and their teachers on to our sites.
Ways to inspire
There is a lot we can all do to inspire and develop the next generation of engineers and innovators to our industry.
For example, we recently welcomed Year 7 pupils from a school in Shrewsbury onto our project site at the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, as the first stage of their British Science Association CREST Award ‘bronze’ challenge.
“We need to continue to attract, encourage and nurture talent to join and stay in our industry”
At sixth-form age, we support the Arkwright Scholarships Trust and Headstart schemes, which encourage those taking their GCSEs to consider careers in engineering and construction.
One such initiative is Buildcamp, an innovative four-day programme which will see 15 to 20 sixth-formers build a mini railway line over four days under our guidance and supervision.
Supporting the introduction of university technical colleges and studio schools and the work they do in vocational education, we have developed an accredited work experience programme through the Employer Ownership Pilot, which is seeing many hundreds of young people make their first step in construction.
Then there’s our support of Budding Brunels, an OCN-accredited programme providing careers guidance for Year 12 students.
In Tower Hamlets and Southwark, we run workshops and mock interviews where we are able to provide dozens of students with practical advice on how to get into construction.
Path to employment
Several of the students who came on this programme are now working for us, including Ariel, 19, from London who found a place on our exciting Crossrail project.
We are also a Gold Patron of the Prince’s Trust and since 2009, through the experience-based Get into Construction programme, we have helped more than 200 disadvantaged young people gain training and work experience on our sites.
I was delighted that 11 unemployed young Londoners who’d been working on a Southwark school were recently recognised and received their CSCS cards after completing a nine-day work placement.
More than 70 per cent of these students are now moving into further training or employment within the construction industry.
“There is a lot we can all do to inspire and develop the next generation of engineers and innovators to our industry”
School-leaver recruitment fairs have moved on a long way, too. We take part in leading events such as the Inspiring your Future: Inspiring Women event in Essex, aimed at encouraging ethnic minority and female schoolchildren into traditionally male careers such as construction.
Meanwhile, as a member of Engineering UK, at Balfour Beatty we were proud to be the sole construction representative at The Big Bang @ Parliament event last November.
We also welcome hundreds of young people onto our sites as part of the UK Contractor Group’s Open Doors weekend each summer, which is now locked firmly into the annual calendars of firms across our industry.
Peer group mentoring is important too. We have a population of 650 graduates, trainees and apprentices, many of whom act as STEM Ambassadors and Construction Ambassadors, attending events such as Inspiring the Future, Big Bang and the Skills Show.
I know we need to continue to drive all these employment routes so that we can attract, encourage and nurture talent to join and stay in our industry.
Nick Pollard is chief executive of Balfour Beatty Construction Services UK