February 4, 2019
Having assembled a consortium of employers willing to work together to help devise a solution to the skills gap in the construction sector, Mark Thompson thought the easy part would be finding an education provider to partner with.
However, after spending three years of intermittent activity with various potential partners, the ‘easy part’ no longer seemed so straightforward.
“I visited universities and professional institutes around the country looking for someone to partner with us but many I spoke to just didn’t get the bigger picture,” says Mark, managing partner of Ryder and a passionate advocate of the need to develop skills in the region and indeed the construction industry.
“You go to some of these places and they talk in terms of years to create new courses, but you can’t work with that timescale. This is a fast-changing industry and we wanted change to happen now; it needed to happen now.”
Following one such fruitless meeting in late 2015, Mark bumped into Robin Mackie, chairman of Gateshead College. Mark, as he recalls, “got on my soapbox about it all”, and Robin suggested he met with Judith Doyle, principal and chief executive of the college, who Mark already knew.
A few weeks later, at a meeting between Mark and the assembled consortium of architects, engineers and builders from Arup, Brims, Cundall, FaulknerBrowns Architects, Sir Robert McAlpine, Tolent, 3e, Xsite Architecture and Robin, Judith and her team, the foundations were laid for PlanBEE (Built Environment Education) – an innovative, two-year higher level apprenticeship offering a salary, on-the-job training, a fast-track to graduation and professional accreditation, and guaranteed employment at the end for those who satisfactorily complete the programme.
The first cohort of apprentices, it was decided, would start in September 2016 – less than seven months from the initial meeting. Since then, more than 40 young people have been accepted onto the scheme and over £750,000 has been invested by Ryder and the 20 additional PlanBEE sponsors.
“From that very first meeting and in the three years since, there has not been a time when the commitment and ambition from the sponsors or Gateshead College has waned. Working with the college has been a breath of fresh air – rather than talking to people who find reasons why they can’t do things, Judith and her team look at how they can make things happen. They just got it, from that first meeting they were committed and have created a programme which allows us, as a sector, to work in collaboration. That is what is needed and we are seeing great results,” says Mark.
The emphasis on collaboration is something Gateshead College is absolutely committed to. With a strong, award-winning track record in offering bespoke training and specially-devised tailored courses to a wide range of major North East employers – including Virgin Money, Greggs, Go NorthEast, Brewin Dolphin, as well as Ford Engineering, with whom it has created the dedicated Ford Engineering Academy – the college prides itself on having the commitment and agility to respond to whatever businesses need.
Judith says: “Too often, there is a ‘one size fits all’ approach, whereas we are very bespoke and appreciate that everyone’s needs are different. With PlanBEE, we had to get off the blocks quickly given the tight timescale, but that didn’t faze us; we knew that by working together we could make it happen.
“At Gateshead College, we are very, very good at reacting quickly, and whether it is adapting a short course to be exactly what a business requires, or creating something entirely new and bespoke,
we can do that. If someone comes to us with an idea, we can take that forward together and create something that works for them and sometimes that could potentially benefit the wider industry.
“This is a very good example of how collaboration within industry can work – sometimes you have to put the potential business competition aside and act in the best interests of the wider sector and the region and that can bring great results for everyone involved. We recognised that and the role we could play in delivering the solution.”
Mark is delighted with the way PlanBEE has been delivered from day one, and how its offering is tailored exactly to the requirements of the businesses within the consortium, as well as the construction sector as a whole.
“One problem in the construction industry is the fragmented nature of it, and I personally think a key obstacle at the moment is for the industry to be more integrated and work more collaboratively, instead of working in the same silos, or nothing will change,” says Mark.
“We have shown through the creation of PlanBEE that working in collaboration can be very successful. Everyone in the consortium is working together, investing money in training young people and helping them get the skills they need to help the future of construction. We, that is the consortium and the college, have taken a very entrepreneurial approach to create something that is helping deliver what the industry needs and is
also an appealing option for young people.
“I hope we are also helping to show parents, as
well as the young people themselves, the levels
of opportunity available in construction and that there are routes into the professional roles other than the traditional university option. When I
left school, an apprenticeship was seen as being aspirational, something that was really in demand, and I think that is the kind of programme we
have created here, something which delivers qualifications alongside the on-the-job training and development of other skills that can prove invaluable.”
Judith agrees, adding: “Our study programmes and Apprenticeships are about so much more than just the learning aspect, it is about how we help make our students work-ready. It is that breadth of learning and helping students understand how to network, how to function in a formal meeting, how to speak at events. When it comes to working in business, the technical skills are a given, it is the additional skills – so the confidence, the life skills, the presentation skills – that employers look for, and they can immediately see how that person can add value to their organisation.”
With PlanBEE proving to be yet another successful example of a collaboration between Gateshead College and industry, what does Judith believe to be their USP which enables them to bring the ideas to reality that other learning providers cannot?
“We are focused on the strategic involvement – you have to be part of it, you have to lead it. Just to deliver it isn’t good enough, you have to be entirely committed, give a professional level of service and work in collaboration to get the job done,” she says.
“At Gateshead College, everybody works really hard to make a success of whatever we do, to achieve the levels of excellence we aspire to and to ensure we deliver.
“We are working in partnership with businesses of all types to show how investing in skills
within their organisation can lead to a highly- motivated workforce. We share the ambition of the businesses we work with and invest the time to understand their needs so we can help them achieve the outcomes they want. We are proud of our track record and are so pleased we have had the opportunity to work with Mark and the consortium to create PlanBEE.”