Supporting workplace learning in East Anglia

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Sue Wilcock talks to Simon Severwright and Matt Mclaughlin of Barnes Construction about the company’s approach to skills and training.

For more than four decades, Barnes Construction has been helping local school leavers take their first career step, offering a combination of work experience and college-level education through its management training program.

The company established the program in 1979, in its second year of operation, and it has launched and supported many successful careers to date. Currently, more than half of the executives have gone this route, including three of the current managers, Mark Bailey, Chris Bruce and Simon Severwright, who was recently promoted to Director of Surveying.

A former student of Thurleston High School, Simon joined Barnes in 1997. After completing his training he chose to become a quantity surveyor and was supported by the company to study part-time at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford to obtain his diploma. He then rose through the corporate ranks, becoming Associate Director, then Director of Surveying in August 2021.

Together with senior quantity surveyor Matt McLaughlin, Simon oversees the management training program and explains how it is structured so that interns experience the business as a whole.

“Unlike other organizations, which tend to recruit for specific departments, we provide our interns with a structured plan allowing them to gain a detailed understanding of the business.

Construction management spans many professional disciplines, and over five years candidates spend time in every department of the company, under the guidance of a mentor; someone who has usually completed the management training program themselves.

“Areas covered include surveying, site management, design management, estimation and planning, bid and contract management. This, in addition to the time spent on construction sites, makes it easier for recruits and the company to decide on the most appropriate career path for each intern.

“In addition to work experience, interns also study for a BSc Hons in Construction Management on leave from college, which is fully funded by Barnes.”

Over the years, Barnes has remained committed to his program regardless of the economic climate; recruiting during the pandemic and previous recessions – refusing to let business terms dictate its training policy.

“Each year, we recruit from local schools,” continues Simon. “We are proactive and under normal circumstances we visit schools, spend time with guidance counselors and have one-on-one talks with students. During the pandemic, this was not possible, but without being discouraged, we continued our discussions online. The result is that this year we have welcomed four new management trainees, who join the seven currently in training.

“We already have strong relationships with some local schools, but we are keen to speak to others who might be interested. We took an important step at Barnes when in 2018 we recruited our 75th management intern. And today, out of the 78 executives in post, 41 have taken this route.

So what does Barnes look for when he comes up with a spot on the program?

Matt explains: “In addition to looking for young people who achieve good A-level grades or equivalent professional qualifications, we are also interested in those who are eager to learn and can demonstrate that they have interests and hobbies. exterior. We also want someone who shows initiative in their own development.

And why should a young person seek to apply for the program?

“When I joined the management training program at Stoke High School, what attracted me was that I would earn a salary, get real work experience while studying for my degree in construction management. , which offers a myriad of different opportunities. with roles that suit all personality types.

“The good thing is that I was years ahead of other people who were studying at university full time because I was practicing and applying my work experiences to my learning and my learning to my experiences. of work. It was hard work, but it was worth it. Another bonus was that there was no course fee to pay, so I didn’t end up with a load of student debt when I graduated.

“Yet what really sets Barnes’ management training program apart from others is that it gives you a real insight into the different aspects and functions of business and construction in general, so that you can take an informed decision – based on your own experience – on where you want to develop your future career.


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