NEARLY 40 students and early stage apprentices bent on careers in built environment have spent a week (June 18-23) working together in a rare opportunity to develop practical skills and expertise on site.
The students from the universities of Newcastle, Northumbria and Teesside, and from Newcastle, Gateshead, TyneMet and Carlisle Colleges, have joined with industry specialists from North East firms to share hands-on experience, building scaled down versions of the popular Millennium Gallery in Sheffield.
Participants, in groups of varied capabilities and academic disciplines, are creating four metre long miniatures of the modern arched gallery, which opened in 2001 and is now one of the most popular free visitor attractions in the country, according to Visit England. They were assessed in management, finances and project delivery as they learnt about actual complexities of civil engineering and construction design, particularly in planning, method statements and risk assessment.
The chance to take part came through a second Constructionarium North East, an outdoor event held jointly by industry and academia at Marsden Quarry in Whitburn, Sunderland. The large quarry is owned by the North East based Owen Pugh Group, whose chairman and managing director John Dickson, a prime mover, says: “The scheme’s ethos is to bridge the gap between classroom learning and practical site delivery – an essential to prepare students for working in the industry.”
Constructionariums were first devised in Norfolk over a decade ago, and the first North East programme last year coached 20 young people at Marsden Quarry. Mr Dickson says: “The North East is asserting itself, punching above its weight, in what it’s doing now in training. Nothing else like this is accessible to students in our region.”
He added: “The jump in the number of participants this year shows the need and enthusiasm for this. It wouldn’t have been possible, though, without commitments of support in finance, staff and materials from both industry and academia.”
The main sponsor was Northern Counties Builders Federation, with funding also from Newcastle, Northumbria and Teesside Universities, Northumbrian Water, Gateshead College (via Ryder Architecture’s PlanBEE scheme to attract more talent into attract and train raise architectural, engineering and management appreciation in built environment), and the Newcastle centre of international consultants, Royal Haskoning DHV.
Funding has also come from the Civil Engineering Contractors’ Association (North East) and member firms including Southbay Civils, BAM Nuttall and Sir Robert McAlpine. Support in kind has come from the Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Arco, Galliford Try, Bowmer & Kirkland, Sisk Lagan JV, Seymour Civil Engineering, Owen Pugh, Tarmac and North Tyneside Council. Phoenix Detached Youth Project at North Shields is providing additional transport services. Newcastle University, Civil Engineering Training Group and TyneMet are giving administrative support.
Stuart Miller, director of CECA (North East) says: “On behalf of the many advocates of Constructionarium NE, we were confident of delivering an unforgettable experience for participating students while developing an asset for the civil engineering industry in the region. Employers will be able to access students with unique, hands-on experience of completing a real project. The industry should be immensely proud, and we forecast an even wider participation next year.”
A recent 2017-2021 Construction Skills Network Report by the CITB expects the infrastructure sector to grow by more than 8% short term, with demand for staff in many related occupations likely to rise.
Steve Longworth, a Salford University tutor, acted as project manager, and industry professionals supervised the ongoing work. Before the first sod was turned, the first concrete mixed and the first steel prepared, the teams had induction and health and safety briefings. They were also coached in employability skills and were advised that, as on actual construction sites, random alcohol and drug tests might be carried out.
After a VIP celebration showcasing their work, each participant received a portfolio detailing their work for the information of prospective employers. Dr Charlotte Paterson, Director of the Civil Engineering degree programme at Newcastle University, said: “Students will benefit in so many ways from working with industry professionals. Once back in the classroom, they will appreciate much better the link between theory and practice.”
College tutors expect their students to gain likewise.