BAM Nuttall – Recognising the importance and parity of technical/work based learning and academic pathways at the HVET level
By Nick Davy, Arti Saraswat (AOC)
BAM Nuttall is a leading supplier of civil engineering services, mainly in the UK, focused on delivering quality infrastructure projects. [Projects involved in, include: London City Airport, Julius Nyerere International Airport (Dar es Salaam) and the regeneration of Kings Cross, London.] Foundation members of the Institution for Collaborative Working the company is committed to developing its staff, partnership working and identifying sustainable solutions.
It is also dedicated to creating a Beyond Zero Culture that believes it can create an environment in which there are zero accidents and injuries.
The company employs more than 5,000 people and has created one of the most successful in-house apprenticeship programmes in the UK.
The company has two HVET/PHE programmes – an apprenticeship programme and a programme for graduates.
At present, the 2 programmes are organised separately.
Each year the company recruits between 17 to 36 new apprentices onto its four-year programme. They can be based throughout the UK, spend their first two years as apprentices, before becoming trainees for two years, and then progressing to assistant engineers or assistant quantity surveyors
The bespoke technical apprenticeship programme leads to a Higher Apprenticeship in Civil Engineering/Quantity Surveying, delivered in partnership with a training provider, Leeds College of Building, through a block-release study schedule.
The programme is designed so that on completion of a Higher Apprenticeship the apprentice has an opportunity to gain technical membership through a professional body to gain technician engineer (EngTech) status with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) or technical (TCInstCES) status with the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineers Surveyors (ICES).
Qualifications studied include – Academic/Technical: HNC, HND and Bachelor’s; Competency: NVQ; and the ‘Insight’ development scheme to develop appropriate personality traits and emotional intelligence.
The company has a long history of providing apprenticeships and graduate training programmes– and strongly believes that the culture of the company and relationship with the training and education provider are the keys to successful provision. Several principles underpin this ‘culture’ – (a) that experienced managers who have been through – and benefited from – these programmes will have developed a ‘giving back’ culture (to the company and its newer personnel) and (b) ‘growing your own’ creates loyalty and a long-lasting set of employees committed to the company. The interviewee commented on the programmes 85% retention rate and long service post-qualification in comparison to some of their rivals, as evidence of the approaches efficacy.
The reformed English apprenticeship processes and protocols are in place: apprentice as an employee; clear contract, including training plan; very regular meetings with the training provider (“we visit at least once a week”) and regular meetings between work-based assessors, line mangers and apprentice related to the assessment schedule. (the company has its own WBL assessment centre).
The company does not explicitly train or use coaches or mentors – see later.
Internal QA for the qualification(s): academic/technical – training provider; competency – company, through its own assessment centre. A representative from the company visits the provider at least once a week to discuss the organisation of the apprenticeship processes and progress of the apprentices. This type of regular, informal contact and liaison was viewed as critical in achieving a quality provision. Quality relationships matter.
Experienced managers expect to act as mentors/coaches – and they receive financial rewards as well as the role being on their personnel file and discussed at annual appraisal meetings. Although not overt, it is probably the case that if a manager did not fulfil these roles at some stage in their career it could impact their promotional prospects. A case of ‘this is how we do things around here’.
The company clearly and explicitly believes that process and culture are equally important to achieve a quality ‘product’.
The links with the two professional bodies – ICE/ICES – also provide another external quality assurance mechanism.
There are 4 key managers responsible for the apprenticeship programme in the company. They have responsibility for the programme working efficiently and smoothly, especially liaison with the training provider. It was clear that the company expects the training provider to assure it works to a high standard; and regular liaison was a key element in that assurance.
Evaluation takes place by
- Formal meetings of the training provider based on accepted English higher education external and internal quality assurance methods – regular programme committees; annual programme review including analysis of results by unit/module, agreement of pass/fail decisions and monitored action plan; ‘sign off’ that standards have been met, by a designated governor of the college. The company will have access to these minutes.
- Formal meetings between provider and company.
- Guardian of ‘Standards’ role of professional bodies.
- Accreditation of company assessment centre.
- Culture – as indicated the company puts significant store on establishing the right culture internally and with its partners. The overarching company/provider contract will include regular opportunities for the evaluation of the programme.
Retention and post-qualification longevity indicates that the approaches indicated have a significant impact – maintaining staff morale and loyalty, developing the right supportive culture and ensuring the Beyond Zero Culture is successful.
The company has been involved in relevant National apprenticeship standards development and has some concerns that in some apprenticeship programmes they be becoming too ‘company specific’ rather than generic. Also, the new end point assessment system introduced in the reformed system could be challenging.
Relationship between company/training provider, especially the regular, candid contact, was cited as a major factor leading to a quality and successful programme.
As quoted previously, quality relationships are key.
The emphasis on two-way ‘quality relationships’ is an outcome of a previously unsuccessful relationship.