Building for the future

February 3, 2021

The ongoing pressures caused by COVID-19 may still be impacting our everyday lives, but contractor Tolent is continuing to build for the future. Intrinsic to its ongoing success is the company’s workforce, which includes many past and present apprentices and trainees. To mark National Apprenticeship Week, which takes place this month, Steven Hugill learns more about how the firm nurtures its workers of tomorrow.

www.tolent.co.uk
@Tolentplc

To coin a phrase, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The employment landscape across the region – and the UK – may be battling a COVID-19 flux at present, but there remain elements of permanency.

Take the importance of skills and career development, for example.

As advice goes, the ‘earn yourself a skill and set yourself up for life’ mantra – long recommended in many a classroom and discussed across family dinner tables up and down the country – continues to stand the test of time, despite the impact of coronavirus.

Just ask Tolent.

Strong in the construction sector, the Gateshead- headquartered company is equally robust in building the careers of tomorrow.

And, in an environment where COVID-19 has skewed working and educational environments, it has remained true to its values of nurturing the next generation.

The business currently has 26 trainees in its near 300-strong workforce, who are developing their respective skills bases across numerous disciplines that include quantity surveying, engineering, estimating, joinery and design.

From work on Milburngate, Durham City’s multi-million-pound leisure, office and residential development, to building more than 3000 new, high- quality homes across the North East and Yorkshire, covering both private and public sector over the next few years, Tolent is a company whose reputation for quality precedes it.

And right at the heart of that standing are the firm’s skilled teams, many of which include trainees and apprentices who are working alongside senior figures, themselves successes of Tolent’s talent pathway.

Contracts manager Andy Talbot is one to have graduated from the system.

“Coming into the business at a young age gave me a good setting,” says Andy, who has been with Tolent for 19 years, having started out as a trainee site engineer.

“I initially studied A-levels in maths, physics and business studies but didn’t like it, so changed to a Construction BTEC at Ashington College.

“When that finished, I got in touch with Tolent to ask about work experience and I ended up spending eight weeks of the summer with the engineers,” continues Andy, whose career path has included HNC and university studies and stints as, among other roles, a site agent, project manager and contracts manager.

“Working for a company like Tolent – which is one of the biggest construction contractors in the North East – is great because the work is so varied.

“And having youngsters coming into the business only adds to that because it means the company is continuing to evolve.”

Site manager Callum Brady, who joined Tolent in 2009 as an apprentice grounds work operative, is equally effusive.

“Being an apprentice gives you an insight into the business from the bottom up,” says Callum, who works out of Tolent’s Leeds base.

“Tolent is a brilliant company – it has always helped me take the next step in my career.

“It helps you get to where you want to be, and for apprentices and trainees on site, everyone is always happy to help and provide advice,” continues Callum, who previously studied a Construction and Project Management degree at university.

Such togetherness is emphasised by apprentice joiner Jack Harrison, who joined Tolent upon leaving school last year, and Jade Davison, a trainee turned quantity surveyor, who has been with the company for nine years.

“I enjoyed woodwork at school but when I started with Tolent, I didn’t really know how to hold a hammer properly,” says 16-year-old Jack, who splits time on site with Tolent with CITB joinery apprenticeship studies at Hartlepool College of Further Education.

“However, the people around me are so supportive and the help I’ve received has been outstanding.

“I’ve seen such a change in myself over the last few months,” adds Jack, who hopes to eventually move into site management.

Jade adds: “Trainees are arguably some of the most important people within construction; they may one day be the managers, seniors and directors that future trainees and businesses will come to rely on.”

The quantity surveying graduate is particularly well positioned to talk about Tolent’s support for the next generation, given she helps the company’s aspiring quantity surveyors develop their skills and supports workers to become members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

“The time and support invested in trainees at this stage could go a long way in shaping the future of the industry,” says Jade, who is part of the National Association of Women In Construction and mentors schoolchildren on potential career avenues for The Girls Network.

Another key facet in Tolent’s enduring skills commitment is the PlanBEE project.

A unique higher apprenticeship programme developed by Gateshead College and Newcastle’s Ryder Architecture, it aims to inspire young people to pursue a career in the built environment sector.

For Tolent, it has already borne great fruit, with workers such as trainee site manager Luke Oldfield and trainee engineers Owen Gallagher and Cody Sheriff arriving at the company via the PlanBEE pathway.

“I was unsure about what I wanted to do when I left sixth form, so I joined PlanBEE,” says Luke, who is now studying a Construction and Engineering Management degree at Northumbria University.

“I had been looking into architecture but after having on-site experience, I became set on being a site manager.

“I completed a four-month placement with Tolent in April 2019 and in September was taken on full-time.

“Already I’ve been able to learn a wealth of information from the project managers, supervisors and labourers I work with, and for any aspiring trainee my advice would be to ask as many questions as you can.”

Joiner’s son Owen, who hails from the west end of Newcastle, echoes Luke’s positivity, saying PlanBEE’s influence helped redirect his career path.

“I’d started studying a sports coaching degree at Northumbria University, but found out quickly that it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” reveals the 21-year-old.

“I was one of three out of 14 people to be taken on through PlanBEE and I’m now studying a Construction Management degree after finishing an HND.

“I hope to eventually go into site management.”

And Cody is similarly upbeat.

The 23-year-old had been working in the offshore sector but, thanks to PlanBEE, is now excelling in the construction industry.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but knew I wanted to work somewhere in construction,” reveals Cody, who lives in Hebburn.

“Through PlanBEE, I spent some time with Tolent, and I knew straight away it was the right fit for me.

“I did a HND in Engineering and Management and I’m now studying a Construction and Engineering Management degree.

“I’m also working on Milburngate, which is a great first project to be on.

He adds: “Working through the pandemic, I’ve been given a lot more responsibility and I just want to keep gaining more experience as an engineer and soak up as much knowledge as I can.

“Tolent has been great with me and it’s fantastic to work with such a supportive team.”

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Delivering apprenticeships in a COVID-19 world