In bid to boost construction numbers through social value, DIO and Kier VolkerFitzpatrick are providing opportunities for apprentices and local students to gain an insight into a career in the construction industry.
The US Visiting Forces Infrastructure Programme (UIP) is made up of several focused projects to develop infrastructure at various RAF bases, which are used by the US Air Force. The most advanced of these is the RAF Lakenheath F-35 programme.
RAF Lakenheath will be the first permanent international site for US Air Force F-35s in Europe and construction began in July to prepare the airbase for the arrival of two new squadrons of US F-35s in 2021.
The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) awarded a contract worth £160 million to the Kier VolkerFitzpatrick joint venture (KVF) in November 2018 to deliver critical infrastructure at the Suffolk airbase.
At the height of construction, it is expected that there will be up to 700 people on site supporting the programme that will see the delivery of a flight simulator facility, a maintenance unit, new hangars and storage facilities.
It is envisaged that the project will boost the local economy but DIO and contractors KVF are keen that the project should also strengthen and support the local community.
In 2017, Kier commissioned a research report into the image and recruitment crisis facing the built environment. The majority of the parents surveyed, 73 per cent, said they would not want their child to consider a career in the construction sector as they view the work as manual, poorly paid and not for girls.
The skills shortage continues to maintain its grip over the construction industry, with the sector requiring 400,000 recruits each year to keep up with demand and to meet its ongoing requirements.
DIO is supporting KVF’s social value manager on an innovative project to reach out to local students to give them an insight into the variety of careers available within the construction industry.
Once a month, Year 10 students from nearby Mildenhall College Academy will chat via Skype to someone working on the RAF Lakenheath construction project, giving them the opportunity during the 30 minute sessions to speak to a range of people about their careers in the construction industry.
Pupils taking part in the chats will also be provided with each speaker’s CV and a workbook, which will support their career discussions in the classroom.
DIO USVF Programme Director, Keith Maddison, explains: “We are happy to support the work that KVF is doing with the local community around RAF Lakenheath.
“It is important to us that the project provides social as well as economic benefits for the local area and that these benefits last even after construction has finished.
“Construction can offer exciting opportunities and I hope that these regular conversations with local students will open their eyes to the many options available to people who choose a career in this industry.”
The first session took place at the end of September with a construction project manager. Further sessions are scheduled throughout the school year and will involve chats with design managers, those working in the energy sector, health and social care and IT.
In addition to strengthening relationships between the project and the local community, it is hoped that the regular chats will encourage young people to consider a career in construction.
Chris Evans, Managing Director of VolkerFitzpatrick’s Civils division is keen to stress the value of people and the importance of encouraging young people to consider choosing a career in the construction industry. He says: “Our people are the driving force behind each and every one of our projects and it is essential that we continue to attract new people into the industry.
“Initiatives like this are a fantastic way of engaging with the next generation of professionals and sharing the diverse range of opportunities available to them within construction.”
In addition to this innovative programme, DIO encourages and supports all of its contractors to develop apprenticeship programmes as part of their work.
It offers a range of apprenticeships on offer to support existing and new staff who wish to develop new skills or upskill through gaining new knowledge and experience.
The project at RAF Lakenheath has an ambition to employ 16 apprentices on site before the end of the programme. As of August, eight have been recruited through VolkerFitzpatrick and Kier.
Hayden Scarth, one of the apprentices currently working at RAF Lakenheath, spoke about his experiences on site. He said: “It’s challenging, I am learning something new every day and getting to apply what I’ve learned.
“I love the fast pace of the work and that I get to be out and about on site. I have already learned the importance of getting out and seeing what is happening. It’s great to have the experience of working on such large and complex projects with big budgets.
“I would definitely recommend an apprenticeship. It is a quicker route to qualification, you get real life experience and you earn money while you are learning.”
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