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UK entrepreneurs pledge support for construction skills initiative

An initiative designed to attract new talent into the built environment industry has secured the backing of entrepreneurs from three high-profile firms.

Black & White Engineering (B&W), s h e d and James Christopher Consulting are the latest companies to become sponsors of PlanBEE (Built Environment Education), a flexible training programme designed to attract and retain the brightest new talent in the region, plug skills gaps and create a more flexible workforce capable of working across various construction disciplines.

The initiative was launched in 2016 when Gateshead College and Ryder Architecture formed a powerful alliance with a network of architects, designers, contractors and engineering specialists.

Rather than follow a traditional training model where students complete their qualifications while working in one company, PlanBEE gives trainees the chance to work in several companies across the built environment industry.

This radical approach allows entrepreneurs to make their business more competitive and efficient by hiring staff with a more rounded understanding of the industry.

Students on the programme will now benefit from a wider range of expertise with B&W, s h e d and James Christopher Consulting on board.

Launched in the United Arab Emirates in 2007, B&W is a mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) design consultancy with offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Baku, Manila, London and Newcastle. The company offers design and consultancy services to the construction industry worldwide and has worked on numerous large-scale iconic projects including high-rise towers, data centres, hotels, shopping malls and airports.

Steven Horn, director, in B&W’s Newcastle office, said: “We need to see more young people coming into our industry with knowledge of different areas of the built environment. The way PlanBEE is structured allows us to achieve this. The programme is ideal preparation for how we want to develop our staff, which is to give them opportunities to experience different ways of working on various projects around the world.”

Newcastle-based s h e d is a structural and civil engineering design consultancy that specialises in complex engineering design and Building Information Modelling (BIM), an approach that helps firms risk-assess projects at an early stage by generating intelligent 3D models of buildings before construction takes place.

Marc Horn of s h e d said: “Our expertise in BIM requires us to recruit staff with a rounded understanding of the built environment sector. PlanBEE enables us to achieve this because it moves away from traditional off-the-shelf training initiatives that shoehorn professionals into narrowly defined roles in a single company.”

James Christopher Consulting, an established engineering practice in Gateshead, offers design services to the built environment sector and works on a wide range of projects, from small-scale specialist structures to large-scale commercial developments including land reclamation and drainage works.

Technical director Craig Higgins said: “We were delighted to get involved with PlanBEE and were impressed with this novel approach to recruiting, training and developing staff. There’s a strong emphasis on the application of digital technologies to different types of construction projects and we want our workforce to be at the forefront of this revolution.”

Working with Gateshead College, the PlanBEE group has created a bespoke higher-level skills programme that provides budding professionals with study and off-the-job training at the college’s construction facility on Team Valley, along with a job working with some of the region’s leading companies. It has been tailored specifically for and by the North East construction sector, providing students with a starting salary of £10,700 per year, a professional qualification and a guaranteed job opportunity on graduation.

Established by Ryder Architecture, the initiative has already attracted some high-profile names, including Brims Construction, NBS, Desco (Design & Consultancy), BIM Academy, Sir Robert McAlpine, Xsite Architecture, Robertson, 3e Consulting, Cundall, Arup, FaulknerBrowns, Sadler Brown Architecture and Tolent.

Chris Toon, deputy principal at Gateshead College, said: “It’s great to have three additional sponsors on board. The industry has called for employees to be skilled in a greater range of disciplines, such as surveying, landscaping, architecture and planning, and PlanBEE addresses this fundamental need.

“We are proud to be at the forefront of an industry-led initiative that’s becoming a national exemplar for the recruitment and development of construction employees.”

Mark Thompson, managing partner at Ryder Architecture, added: “It’s fantastic to see the positive impact the programme is making on the students and sponsoring businesses, and we’re delighted to be welcoming the new sponsors to our third cohort.”