Shepherd Engineering Services weathers storm and aims to recruit

Managing director Steve Joyce said: “You can feel more buoyancy now.”

The biggest blade testing hub in the world is being built at the National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec) at Blyth and this section is by Shepherd Construction
The biggest blade testing hub in the world is being built at the National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec) at Blyth and this section is by Shepherd Construction

Construction firm Shepherd Engineering Services’ North East operation hopes to expand its workforce after weathering the economic crisis, growing turnover by 60% over the last three years to £35m.

The Newcastle-based regional unit of the building services company, which is part of the Shepherd Group, said it has avoided the slump in the construction sector to increase revenues throughout the recession while also maintaining the 22-strong workforce.

Having boosted sales from £22m in 2010 to £35m this year, managing director Steve Joyce has predicted similar turnover for the year ahead, 75% of which has already been achieved through a bulging forward order book.

The company has seven other regional offices around the UK, and the North East SES region is now working on projects in Nottingham, Leeds, Selby and Hull while retaining a local labour force.

Joyce said the firm has coped throughout the economic crisis by bidding for complex projects, scrutinising the market and making sure the company is involved in potential growth sectors including renewable energy, mixed-use developments and student accommodation.

Work has significantly picked up, raising hopes that the workforce could soon swell to meet the demands.

Joyce said: “It’s been the hardest few years we have ever had, based on the time and effort you have to put in to win a job, but we looked at how the political and economical situation was unfolding, looking at how government spending was going, and worked out from there what jobs to tender for.

“We looked out for projects where you have to be more technical and spend more time planning.

“When the recession was here, it was easy to keep your head down and wait until it was all over, but if you do that you fail and we saw a lot of companies move out of the industry all together or go into administration.

“Although we have increased turnover, we have used the same team of staff. We haven’t significantly grown the team, but have done more with the same amount of people.

“But if it picks up like we think it will, we will have to invest in more staff. It’s hard to say how many, but we will probably have to bring in more staff and we are also taking on apprentices in the North East.”

After watching the recession affect rival firms, SES focussed on complex student accommodation and manufacturing projects, with recent contract wins including the construction of student villages at Newcastle’s Pitch Street and in Gateshead, projects worth around £9m to the firm.

The firm has also recently completed work on a biomass unit at the Drax power station in North Yorkshire, and at the National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec) in Blyth, where the biggest blade testing hub in the world was constructed.

Joyce said the company secured the Narec project after sending key staff to Colorado where the only other testing facility of its kind exists.

He said: “To learn more about the needs at Narec we flew to the US to see the only other one of its kind in Colorado, so that when we went for the interview we could demonstrate that we knew how to build the facility.

“Student accommodation contracts account for around 10% of our business, and the Trinity Green and Pitch Street contracts were worth between �8m and �9m to us, and it’s keeping all of our workforce in the North East as well.

Going forward, SES believes the rejuvenated housing sector is aiding the recovery.

Joyce added: “You can feel more buoyancy now.”

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