Daniel Gardner was an aspirational 20 year old, with clear leadership ability, working in the café at his local Morrison’s. He’d finished his education at one of the toughest schools in Malvern, designated An Area of Outstanding Beauty but none-the-less a sleepy backwater, and was lucky to have a job serving tea to pensioners and other loyal supermarket customers. But this wasn’t Daniel’s calling. We’ll come back to Daniel later.
At the heart of the Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy is an ambition to create 30,000 new apprenticeships in response to a significant skills gap and growing demand for a workforce that can service the huge government investment in transport infrastructure projects in the UK.
Apprenticeships – and wider work-based learning programmes – are undergoing enormous change; as the government pushes forward with plans to create 3m apprentices by 2020 via an ambitious levy on big business and the complete re-writing of training plans, industry standards and the way employers work with colleges and training providers.
Major construction projects, such as Crossrail, are a prime example of how public and private investment in infrastructure are looking beyond a legacy of tunnels and track. Sir Terry Morgan, Crossrail Chairman, has always seen the project as a call to arms, earlier this year he proclaimed:
This is the opportunity, not only to deliver; but I often think on my Crossrail programme, I often say, big though it is, it’s £15bn of investment, big though it is – it’s more than a railway”. “It’s all the legacy issues that go with it, around skills, about employment, about economic regeneration: a whole suite of things that always follow investment in transport infrastructure
The government have agreed:
“When we’re investing £70 billion in transport in this Parliament alone, we need a new generation of engineers, designers and construction professionals, as well as highly skilled people to operate the networks once they’re opened”.
Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport, August 2015.
To meet this challenge head-on, there are increasing examples of people reimagining what this legacy looks like. A new style of training set-up that is having a radical impact is the collaboration between Youthforce and Crossrail contractor Balfour Beatty, Morgan Sindall, Vinci (BBMV). Youthforce is a small independent training provider, based in Hove, Sussex, and we’ve been quietly developing apprenticeship programmes on the south coast for the last 10 years.
But recently, I’ve been working with major UK business in construction and science to reimagine what a top-to-bottom workforce development programme might look like. Here is an enormous opportunity for businesses in-line to pay the levy from April, ensuring that they get an expert training programme that boosts recruitment, retention and gives them a pipeline of talent for many years.
Like everyone else, Youthforce were ‘selling’ apprenticeships as a ready-made, government-funded training package; a hefty state-determined framework, delivered through a day-release programme – often inflexible and restrictive in how it could be delivered. Now, we’re turning this on its head.
What we’ve done differently, is to spend time understanding how BBMV, the joint venture between Balfour Beatty and Morgan Sindall, works. We have learned about concrete chemistry at the Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy (TUCA) building, they donned hard-hats down the Crossrail tunnels to understand what conditions apprentices would need to work in. It is not just about understanding how big-scale construction works; it is about understanding how it works in these companies, analysing the skills gaps and creating first class recruitment programmes that find and coach appropriate talent even before they reach the interview room.
To be honest, we probably wouldn’t have given the CV’s of these apprentices a second look, but Youthforce saw the potential based on their understanding of our needs, and what makes these young people tick. I’m glad they did, the apprentices couldn’t be a better fit and we couldn’t be more committed to making this work
Graham Booker, Materials Department Technical Manager for Balfour Beatty.
Youthforce are disrupting the whole way their apprenticeships are designed – giving power to Balfour Beatty and Morgan Sindall to be commissioners of the training, ensuring that every assessment is fit for purpose; up-skilling Balfour Beatty supervisors so that they would be able to get the best out of the apprentices they are going to be managing. Youthforce are now project managers as well as training experts, bringing in partner training companies to deliver new, specialist parts of the training and working with Balfour Beatty and BBMV as full partners in the programme design, rather than just getting occasional updates from the tutor.
Tom Lane, Skills and Employment Manager for Tideway, has been a strong advocate for an initial 3 week block of safety training (CSCS, Tunnel Entry, manual handling, working at height for example) and site visits which he worked with Youthforce to plan and procure. He says:
This initial training is vital to them being immediately site ready. We are working on broadening this for future cohorts as it worked so well to prepare them
So what is relevant about Daniel Gardner? Daniel would not have ordinarily applied for a job at Balfour Beatty. And he wouldn’t have got it if he did. He had a lot to learn about himself, about the business of construction and about the science that drives safe and effective material chemistry. Yet, Daniel was a bright and meticulous worker, with a great eye for detail and an easy manner with colleagues. He was a quick learner. We saw this immediately and set to work on bringing out these qualities, empowering Daniel to articulate his strengths and to be clear about how his passions and ambitions were much bigger than the Morrison’s café. Balfour Beatty have valued Daniel, and have invested in his career – and in return they now have a brilliant materials technician who deals effortlessly with the myriad of subcontractor’s onsite.
My vision is to ensure that the employers that work with Youthforce never feel that their growth is hampered by a lack of home-grown, hungry talent looking for a start in the industry. The talent is out there, and good partnerships like this will be the future to unlocking it.