Costain Supports Apprenticeship Week

6 February 2012

Costain is lending its weight to National Apprenticeship Week, which runs from 6-10 February, with the publication of a case study, in conjunction with Business in the Community (BITC) and City & Guilds (C&G), explaining its commitment to apprenticeships and detailing the successes of some of those who have taken up this form of employment.

The case study has been produced for the launch of the BITC and C&G ‘Million Extra’ initiative, which aims to bring together employers, training centres and learners to deliver a million Apprenticeships by 2013.

Costain’s case study includes testimonials as to the value of apprenticeships from managers as well as from past and present apprentices. Among the former group is former apprentice Mike Field, who last year became the first Technician Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

Although the Company has traditionally made an investment in an annual intake of graduates, in 2010 it began also to invest in an Apprenticeship Development Programme to help offset the UK construction industry’s skills shortage.

“Recruiting apprentices enables us to meet our future skills needs in crucial areas,” said Apprenticeship Manager, Val Thompstone, who is responsible for the programme. “It allows us to recruit the right people and develop them in a way that meets the needs of both Costain and the apprentice.”

The Programme was formalised two years ago when 21 people were recruited on to an Advanced Apprenticeship Scheme, which seeks out talent in fields such as civil engineering and design rather than traditional ‘craft’ sectors. 

However, it also covers areas such as business administration, accountancy and laboratory technicians. The Energy & Process division recruits in a wide range of subjects including civil/structural design, instrument, and piping design.

Places are highly sought. “Response last year was fantastic,” said Val. “We had around 40 applicants for each position.” The commitment of applicants can be seen from the fact that only two have dropped out. Costain currently has 33 apprentices on the payroll (six having completed last year) and hopes to recruit up to a further 30 this year, depending on demand from the business. 

The three-year apprenticeship is designed to culminate in the apprentices gaining Level 3 BTEC and NVQ diplomas. The end point in professional development is membership of the apprentice’s relevant professional institution, such as the ICE.

Apprentices can gain their qualifications either via a mix of day release courses or an online ‘e-portfolio’ together with on-the-job training. Some attend block release at college during their first year.

One fan of the Advanced Apprenticeship scheme is Environmental Services Director Andy Bull: “My division recruited five Technician apprentices in 2011; we have been delighted with their work ethic, enthusiasm and commitment and without exception they have all added value very quickly to the services we offer our customers,” he said. 

As part of their experience, three of the Technician apprentices will have the chance during Apprenticeship Week to undertake a ‘job swap’ with Andy. He will shadow the trio through a series of experiments in the laboratory, then they will accompany him to a directors’ meeting.

The growth in apprenticeships is driven not only by Costain’s requirements but by client demand. “A lot of our clients expect us to take on a certain number of apprentices per million pounds of spend,” explained Val. “This is all part of reducing the number of ‘NEETS’ – youngsters ‘not in education, employment or training’ as part of the drive to cut youth unemployment.”