One of the construction industry’s leading figures is urging North East building contractors to employ more civil engineering trainees for the sake of the sector’s future.
The appeal comes from John Dickson, retiring regional chairman of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), who is asking each of the organisation’s 73 member firms based between Berwick and Whitby, to recruit another trainee.
His plea comes as part of his final report, in anticipation that workloads will eventually increase to be in line with other areas around the country.
Dickson, The Journal’s Business Executive of the Year for Tyneside and Northumberland, said: “It’s perhaps understandable, but with considerable regret, that the number of new entrants into our sector of the construction industry continues to be low, especially since our initiatives, over recent years, have been successful in promoting our sector as a career for school leavers.
“It has never been a better time for grants in support. So even in this still difficult period for us, I am appealing for each firm to consider taking on one new trainee. Our industry’s future depends on it.”
CECA regional director Douglas Kell has pointed out that civil growth in the North East was recently estimated at 2% following a stagnant three years, compared against 10% in the South, meaning the gap is widening.
However Owen Pugh Group, of which Dickson is chairman, employing 380 people and operating from Dudley in Northumberland, Stockton and Blaydon, has continued to recruit young people on full time permanent contracts, paying more than apprentices commonly receive.
“We are training them to do what we need them to do - not what a funder wants to pay them to learn,” he explained.
His appeal came as CECA North East named Gareth Giles, 25, the region’s trainee of the year. Gareth, of Gateshead, is a site engineer with Balfour Beatty, and a graduate of Newcastle University.
Originally from Lewisham, London, he has now made the North East his home and was also named most promising trainee civil engineer. He has worked on the multi-million pound Harton Quays public park, in South Shields.
Also from Balfour Beatty, Caroline Williams, 29, of Waterhouses, in County Durham, was named the most promising trainee quantity surveyor. Caroline has two degrees – one gained part-time - had to overcome the disappointment of a previous redundancy and the difficulty of meeting course fees prior to her present job, in which she has worked on a park and ride scheme at York and projects for Northumbrian Water.
Most promising apprentice award went to aspiring foreman joiner, Tom Thornton, 21, of Newton Aycliffe. Tom has worked on major projects for Sir Robert McAlpine, including Science Central mixed development at Newcastle and AkzoNobel’s new £100m paint manufacturing centre, in Ashington, Northumberland.
Dickson adds: “Our industry offers a wide range of good career opportunities, not only on site work but also in information technology and other support functions.”
The Northern Counties Builders’ Federation, which raised its training grants by 22% to £10,430 last year, is offering support for prizes that colleges and other training bodies may give young people to encourage training and recruitment for the industry.
It has recently contacted three colleges in the North East, and is supporting this month, along with other groups in the sector, an annual inter-schools construction challenge, run by Owen Pugh Group to spur pupils’ interest in building and civil engineering.