Skip navigation

Construction/Civil Engineering case studies

NOCN is working with employers in the construction and civil engineering industries to develop a suite of exciting new Trailblazer Apprenticeships which are specifically designed to fill the skills gap.

Case study: Building the Future with Employer Engagement

The brief

The UK’s economic recovery is bringing with it a number of major infrastructure projects offering a wealth of job opportunities for those willing to up-skill or re-train.

Innovative solutions for large-scale projects

Bridgwater College is a leader in developing innovative solutions to meet large scale construction and civil engineering requirements. They work with local and national partners to ensure courses are at the highest standard, meeting the needs of industry and providing opportunities for learners from all backgrounds to acquire the essential skills for greater national productivity.

Among these major projects is Hinkley Point C, the first in a series of proposed nuclear new builds throughout the UK, and the first nuclear power station to be built in this country for 20 years. Many of the skills required for the 10-year construction phase are new and, in order to deliver the project on time and on budget, the development of innovative, accredited training programmes - nationally recognised and meeting the rigorous standards of this highly regulated industry - is key.

Thousands of jobs, hundreds of apprenticeships

Hinkley Point C will create thousands of job opportunities for local people, including up to 500 apprenticeships. For the past four years, Bridgwater College has been working in close partnership with EDF Energy and its Tier 1 contractors to develop a new curriculum to support the project and create a sustainable legacy of standards and qualifications for the nuclear new build industry worldwide.

There has been significant investment by both the College and EDF Energy; for civil engineering a £2m, 8-acre, ‘live’ Construction Skills and Innovation Centre has been created, offering training in excavation, ground works, concrete pouring, formwork and steelfixing. In addition, a state-of-the-art facility for engineering training has been built, part of the South West hub for the National Skills Academy, Nuclear.

In the four years since these facilities opened, the College has seen engineering apprentice and student numbers increase by 400% and an extension to accommodate advanced engineering training is under way, with further industry and LEP investment committed.

These resources have enabled the College to develop and deliver the UK’s first accredited qualifications in various disciplines. Course recruitment has been coordinated with local Job Centre Plus offices to offer marginalised and disengaged young people and adults a range of civil engineering pre-employment programmes that increase confidence, promote industry-specific skills and behaviours and facilitate entry/re-entry to the world of work. In addition, the strong vocational bias of these programmes means that people without strong academic qualifications can acquire new knowledge in a practical, realistic working environment, acquiring skills targeted at tangible job opportunities in the locality.

1200 steelfixers for Hinkley’s new reactors

A prime example of this approach is steelfixing. Working under the UK CES Employer Ownership of Skills programme with principal contractor Laing O’Rourke, awarding body NOCN and the University of the West of England, the College has assisted in the development of a suite of formal steelfixing qualifications - from apprenticeships through to supervisory at Level 4 - to address the training needs for this critical skill. There are around 2600 steelfixers across the UK, whose average age is 56 years, yet the Hinkley Point C project alone will require 600 for each of its two new reactors.

There is therefore an urgent need to attract a huge number of new entrants to the industry, and for contractors to formally accredit their existing steelfixing workforce. Most steelfixers start out as labourers and learn on the job; however, past experience on nuclear new builds in France has demonstrated that failure to adequately train the steelfixing workforce can have serious repercussions in terms of delays and costly re-work - the need to professionalise this industry is paramount.

What we delivered

Over 200 people applied to join the College’s March 2014 pilot programme in steelfixing, many of them long-term unemployed. 24 were selected, and of the 16 that completed successfully, 15 are now employed as steelfixing apprentices with Laing O’Rourke, working on building sites across the UK, earning excellent salaries and learning new life skills, such as living away from home, managing money and operating as part of a close-knit team.

These new apprentices describe the steelfixing programme as having a transformational effect on their lives. Robert Palmer, who was part of the pilot cohort and formerly unemployed, said: “The instructors have years of steelfixing experience behind them, so we really respected their answers and their attitude, which was firm but fair.The College has opened up a whole new way of life for me and my family, and discovering that I had been successful in my application to become a steelfixing apprentice with Laing O’Rourke was one of the best moments of my life.”

His colleague, Tom Baker, added:

“The staff at the College had high expectations and applied the rules exactly as they would on a real-life construction site – but we really looked up to them for that. They treated us with respect, which you don’t always get when you’re unemployed. My proudest moment was realising that I am going to be a steelfixing apprentice with Laing O’Rourke.”

Building for the future

It is hugely rewarding to see the impact this opportunity has had on the lives of these men and their families, who are now making a real contribution to society as employees, consumers and taxpayers.
Further steelfixing programmes are set to run as soon as the nuclear new build starts in earnest, with demand expected to exceed 350 candidates in 2016 alone.

The Steelfixing apprenticeship has now been confirmed as meeting the Government’s criteria for the new employer-led ‘Trailblazer’ apprenticeship standards, which means even more opportunity for people to become Steelfixing apprentices.

Where we added value

Benchmark for innovation, quality and excellence

This ground-breaking partnership between Bridgwater College, Laing O’Rourke and NOCN is establishing a benchmark for innovation, quality and excellence for the nuclear new build industry UK wide, whilst enabling companies of all sizes to professionalise their workforce and enter the supply chain. The impact on the community has been significant, with substantial numbers of long-term unemployed re-entering the workplace as Somerset enters one of the most transformational periods in recent history.

Case Study: Steelfixing Trailblazer Apprenticeship

The brief

Closing the skills gap in civil engineering:

NOCN, along with major UK contractor Laing O’Rourke and Bridgwater College, has developed a new Apprenticeship programme for one of the major craft skills in civil engineering. The subsequent Apprenticeship has now approved by Ofqual and the Skills Funding Agency.

Skills gaps are a major risk

Over the next 10 years the UK will see an increase in investment in major civil engineering infrastructure such as the Nuclear Power Station Build Programme, Crossrail and HS2.

There are major skills gaps for the core civil engineering skills in the industry which unlike the ‘building’ part of construction has not had a strong history of apprenticeship programmes.
Couple this with the demographic time bomb of an aging workforce means that unless urgent action is taken, the problem of a skills gap is about to hit home. Unless the skills gap in the workforce is addressed, UK contractors will have to look to Europe to meet the skill requirements.

"There is a skills gap in the construction industry that is only going to get wider. If we are to sustain this predicted expansion then we have to ensure people receive proper accredited training in the skills needed for now and the future." Graham Hasting-Evans, MD, NOCN

What we delivered

In the past, the industry has used major projects such as T5 at Heathrow and the London Olympics as catalysts for improving skills. NOCN has experience in such major skills projects and MD Graham was the person responsible for developing the skills agenda on the 2012 London Olympics, ensuring those who were trained and employed could then use their skills beyond the project.

Graham has also been a member of the UK National Steering Committee for the Build Up Skills programme, a UK initiative backed by the European Commission which aims to support closing the training and skills gap in the UK workforce to enable it to meet the EU 2020 energy efficiency targets. With all this experience it should be no surprise therefore that NOCN were asked to be part of this important Trailblazer apprenticeship.

Employers leading the way

Laing O’Rourke is a direct employer and is fully aware of these skill gaps and the risks they pose. One significant national skills gap that has been identified is Steelfixing and so the company spearheaded a project funded through the Employer Ownership Pilot to develop a new Level 2 apprenticeship for Steelfixing.
As project leaders, Laing O’Rourke selected a group of colleges to deliver the formal training component. These were Bridgwater College, Gateshead College and latterly the National Construction College. After a full tendering process the company then appointed NOCN as the awarding organisation to support the development of the qualification.

"Working with all of the stakeholder partners to develop this qualification has been an incredibly useful and beneficial process and as a result of the breadth of involvement we have developed a qualification that’s fit for the new infrastructure projects currently being planned. By giving people new skills in the latest methods of construction, we are equipping them to a new world of opportunities, bounded only by their enthusiasm and imagination." Alison Lamplough, Head of Operational Training, Laing O’Rourke

The development process

In February 2013 at NOCN’s offices in London, Laing O’Rourke brought together the team to develop the qualification and the apprenticeship delivery model. The development included input from operational staff, Laing O’Rourke’s suppliers and BAM Nuttall as a representative of other major contractors. The team defined the employers’ standards, the quality control requirements, the knowledge qualification, workplace learning (NVQ), the approach to up-skilling, the training exercises and delivery of the apprenticeship.

The process was undertaken in line with the Richard Review principles. A full package was then brought together including Functional Skills, Employment Rights and Responsibilities (ERR) and Traineeship/pre-apprenticeships pathways at Entry and Level 1. A Level 3 is also planned for team leaders in order to give a full pathway.

The local enterprise partnership (LEP) and other local agencies were involved in recruiting potential apprentices and the apprenticeship was approved by Ofqual and is now on the Apprenticeship Framework. Looking to the future, a quality control group with employers will now oversee the implementation of the apprenticeship.

The qualification has also been designed in such a way as to provide a framework for up-skilling the existing workforce and introduce the use of new technology into site-based work.

Apprentices now on programme

The initial trainee programme has now been running since 2014 and the first cohort of apprentices have been employed and are working towards their Level 2 apprenticeship at Bridgwater College.

One of the first apprentices described their experience of the programme:

"I had no formal qualifications and when I started the course I was unemployed and nervous about having to brush up on English and maths, but actually I really enjoyed it. The staff had high expectations in terms of working practices and applied the rules exactly as they would on a construction site. The instructors made us feel part of something very special, and treated us with respect. My proudest moment was realising that I had been successful in my end of course interview and am now going to be a steel fixing apprentice with Laing O’Rourke." Tom Baker, Steelfixing apprentice

Where we added value

Collaboration is the future

Bringing everyone together to collaborate in this way is an innovative approach to the development of employer-led apprenticeships and qualifications. All those involved have enjoyed this collaborative approach and see this as an excellent way of working. It’s the way of the future for employer-led apprenticeships and qualifications and a methodology to which NOCN is fully committed.

"NOCN is working with employers in the construction and civil engineering industries to develop a suite of exciting new Trailblazer Apprenticeships which are specifically designed to fill the gap. Working hand in hand with industry we will support 'The Great Construction Comeback' across the country which is good news for workers, employers and everyone". Graham Hasting-Evans, MD, NOCN.