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Grow your own skill


Demand for specific skills is leading to closer ties between private sector firms and academic organisations, and the latter are becoming more flexible in providing bespoke training. Jon Masters, Claire Symes, Mike Walter and Marcella Rochford report.

Formal partnerships between the private sector and academia are becoming more prevalent and it seems civil engineering and the construction industry as a whole stand to benefit.

Universities and course providers are responding to the demand for specific skills and employers are getting better training for the development of their professionals and their business.

The practice of Private Sector Academic Partnerships (PSAPs) is already well established. However, their increasing variety and emphasis on mutual benefits is giving such partnerships a fresh outlook.

Nottingham Trent University (NTU) developed a BSc in railway infrastructure engineering in 2001 with the support of Railtrack, Carillion, Grant Rail and Balfour Beatty. The course aims to address the railway industry’s shortage of engineering skills.

Students undertake a first year of common study, including civil engineering, before embarking on two years of rail training.

This year NTU has continued to develop bespoke courses by responding to Balfour Beatty’s request for business management training specific to railway operations.

NTU’s head of civil engineering Chris Page says: ‘Balfour Beatty has been helping us with some delivery of the rail infrastructure engineering course.

After discussing how we can take things forward, we have been developing an MA in rail infrastructure construction and management.’

To strengthen its business, Balfour Beatty is recruiting business graduates and equipping them with the skills and knowledge to work in the rail sector.

For this purpose NTU has combined rail industry training with business modules of its property development, investment and management portfolio.

‘This could become one of the most important types of courses, ’ says Page. ‘The rail industry needs a lot of new recruits and converting non engineering graduates to manage rail operations is one solution. We have initially set up the course for Balfour Beatty, but we will be marketing it for the whole industry next year and we expect demand to be high.’

Course fees paid by Balfour Beatty are the initial return for NTU on its efforts to work proactively with the rail sector.

According to Page, the average fee per person stands at about 6,000. Financial benefits also appear to be in the offing for potential rail recruits. Graduates of NTU’s School of Property & Engineering, including rail and civils, secured the highest starting salaries of the whole university in 2002.

‘We think the decline in popularity of construction related courses has bottomed out due to inflating salaries but we envisage more partnerships as many firms will do whatever is necessary to get the right skills, ’ Page says.

Universities are also prepared to act to get what they need.

Glasgow’s Caledonian University and Strathclyde University are taking in-house construction innovation training out to the market after disappointing applications for their jointly developed MSc.

Programme chairman David Orcharton says: ‘The current trend seems to be that employers are very reluctant to fund individual training, perhaps due to the risk of employees leaving.

But they are keen on specific inhouse courses which can be delivered to a large number of employees.

‘Diminished government funding has added importance to the fees we can earn from inhouse training, which is fairly straightforward to provide as the modules are already in place.’

David Parker, head of the School of Civil Engineering & Geosciences at Newcastle University, also cites decreasing funds as a motivation for more partnerships with the private sector.

‘Funding reserved per student by the Higher Education Funding Council for England is decreasing yearly, ’ he says.

‘Funds have to be found from other sources to maintain a high standard of training. Partnerships with the private sector are a way of achieving this and companies end up with better qualified people.’

A 150,000 deal has been secured with Leica Geosystems to help Newcastle University develop three dimensional laser scanning courses and boost resources for its surveying, geosciences and civil engineering students.

Cyra Technologies, a division of Leica Geosystems, has based a Cyrax 2500 laser scanner and a suite of associated software in the university’s Civil Engineering & Geoscience school.

According to Cyra business manager Ian Farrar, 3D laser scanning is an emerging technology and the partnership with Newcastle University will create a centre of excellence.

Newcastle lecturer Dr Jon Mills says: ‘This technology has the potential to revolutionise the geomatics industry. Therefore it is essential that our surveying, mapping science, geomatics and civil engineering students have first hand experience of laser scanning.’

Such partnerships and myriad training initiatives reflect the construction industry’s current buoyancy. Where the course provision has been designed to meet a particular need, student numbers have risen.

At the University of Surrey, for instance, a scholarship scheme supported by construction companies is being run for MEng civil engineering students. Such qualifications are in short supply, so perhaps it is no wonder Surrey’s 2001 intake of 13 students doubled this year to 26 applications and 2002 funding will come from 21 companies in comparison with last year’s 16.

‘Students are given a bursary each year and are offered vacation work with one of the sponsor companies as well as their third year industry placement, ’ says director of undergraduate programmes Dr Bob Griffiths.

‘It is not until this point that they are at all tied to any one firm, but even then they can swap if unhappy with their choice of employer.

‘All students on the course benefit from visits to sponsor company sites and up to date case study information, ’ he says.

‘Earlier this year the entire year visited Skanska’s Stratford Box site on the CTRL project.

Good links with industry are important and we plan to use them to develop new courses and modules to ensure students have the skills needed in the ‘real’ world of civil engineering.’

Management training and soft skills such as teamwork and communication are accepted as generally lacking among the civil engineering fraternity and essential for its progression. And the Engineering Council’s SARTOR requirements now have BEng graduates from 1999 onwards needing ‘Matching Sections’ of study to become chartered.

The Engineering Management Partnership (EMP) appears well placed to provide construction companies with this training.

EMP was established 10 years ago by a number of academic and learned institutions including the ICE to provide management development training for engineers.

It is now a partnership between the universities of Bristol, Bradford and Loughborough.

Through EMP’s corporate affiliate scheme, participating companies are able to contribute to development of the training programmes and benefit from privileged rates and access to special best practice events.

Corporate affiliates include Buro Happold, Atkins, Halcrow and Costain.

Halcrow’s strategic relations development director Patrick Godfrey says: ‘We have been working with EMP for some time and we have a lot of management training going on.

‘A lot of this involves matching technical knowledge with appropriate people skills to produce well rounded engineers and team players.

‘We like EMP’s distance learning format because it allows people to study and stay in the work place. EMP also provides Matching Sections of training which give a foundation for a management qualification.’

Godfrey is responsible for Halcrow’s relations with academia and the company’s contribution to development of Bristol University’s Management of Engineering course.

‘Bristol is one university to have halted and possibly reversed the decline in numbers of civil engineering students by reducing technical course content and introducing more creative design and communication aspects, ’ he says.

‘We have generated closer links with other universities as well, including Bath University and the Cranfield Institute, which has developed our executive development course.

‘There are gaps in engineering education that we must fill by encouraging people to make their own choices and providing them with building blocks of training with which to develop themselves.’


www. construction. ntu. ac. uk/ civil www. gcal. ac. uk; www. strath. ac. uk; www. newcastle. ac. uk;

www. surrey. ac. uk; www. emp. ac. uk

Jon Masters, Claire Symes, Mike Walter and Marcella Rochford are on the editorial team at Barrett Byrd Associates.

Tailor made courses

A fresh response to the industry’s training needs is being provided by Reader Jenkins (RJ), formed by a group of specialist tutors and senior practising professionals.

According to RJ managing consultant and co-founder Thom Currie, the organisation responds to what firms want rather than telling them what they need.

‘We have a course list from which clients can choose and schedule training for a convenient time and location.

In-house course content can be tailored to what the clients want.’

For example, in response to requests from local authorities, RJ has teamed up with Envirocentre, the environmental consultancy offshoot of the University of Strathclyde, to provide courses specific to construction waste management.

‘The partnership’s initial objective is to educate people responsible for specifying construction waste disposal options, ’ he says. Legislative changes, industry standards and practical guidance on waste disposal options are covered in the two day course which will be recommended for 12 hours CPD.


Getting into condition

Training and adequate maintenance can prevent deadly disease Knowledge and competent maintenance can reduce the risk of outbreaks of the potentially fatal Legionnaire’s’ disease. But training - in particular for M&E professionals - is hard to come by.

Legionnaire’s is a potentially lethal pneumonia caused when water droplets contaminated by the bacteria legionella are breathed in.

Common sources of infection are air conditioning (AC) units and hot/cold water systems. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) reports that those using cooling towers are a particular hazard.

‘Bad maintenance of equipment is where the danger originates. If AC systems are well kept they pose no threat, ’ says Mid Career College (MCC) director Dr Alan Sherratt.

The onus of maintenance falls on employers and proprietors.

Regulatory agencies including the HSE can inspect premises to ensure proper procedures are followed.

But training about Legionnaire’s is a relatively specialist subject and few courses concentrate on it solely, says Sherratt.

This year the college and the Institute of Leisure & Amenity Management (ILAM) are among the few organisations to run specific Legionnaire’s topics.

MCC is offering two courses on minimising the risk and an update on HSE guidance on control of legionellosis.

An employer’s guide is provided by the HSE as an accompaniment to the Approved Code of Practice on the prevention and control of legionellosis.

The bacteria thrives in conditions where water stagnates, there is a plentiful supply of nutrients and water temperatures are hospitable.

The HSE states that cisterns and pipework should be designed to prevent water from standing and and covered to stop nutritious detritus from entering Where practical cooling towers should be replaced with dry cooling systems. Failing this the towers must be well maintained, operated and designed with efficient drift eliminators reducing water spray escape.

But Legionnaire’s originates from sources other than AC systems. MCC director Dr Sherratt warns: ‘AC is a source of Legionnaire’s, but emphasis should also be placed on other outbreak origins such as shower heads and spas.’


www. mid-career-college. ac. uk, www.,

Give a little respect

Encouraging argumentative colleagues to get along and respect one another may not only create a more pleasant working environment but help business to function more effectively.

For those who work on their own, relationships with others may not be a pressing concern. But for most of us and especially for those working on a site in large groups, a lack of understanding or respect for one another can lead to ill feeling and have a damaging effect on the performance of a business.

Jan White is a training and development consultant for the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development. She has over 10 years experience in the construction industry and found that for some managers, shouting at people was the only way they knew to deal with a difficult situation.

‘A lot of managers are very task focused. But managers have to be effective at dealing with people, otherwise their own aims and the goals of their companies will not be achieved, ’ she says.

White has developed a course called ‘Dealing effectively with difficult people’ and says that each party needs to give the other an equal amount of respect.

The course brings together people from different industrial sectors, including construction, to establish some common ground.

Attendees are taught how to take a step back, behave more appropriately and deal with issues in a more objective, rather than subjective way.

‘Respect is gained through listening as well as talking, understanding, empathising and compromising. Some people on a construction site may not be able to articulate very well but they have to communicate effectively with others in order to get on, ’ she adds.

Looking closely at how people respond to difficult situations and the attitude of others forms the basis of a course run by Christopher Bell & Associates called ‘Building good relationships’.

Bell is sure that with a little effort, good relations and trust can be established between two people who may have difficulty working together.

‘Role play, lectures and demonstrations are used to help delegates change their perception of other people and we teach them to find out what other people’s motives are when they put across a point of view, ’ he says.

‘When at work you have to give other people respect and listen to them to resolve difficult situations.’

Kensington & Chelsea College offers a diploma in management which verses students in equal opportunities, managing conflict and developing negotiation skills.

Claire Dawson, manager of the college’s training and consultancy unit, says the course contains elements of project management which are very specific to the needs of construction industry professionals who may, for instance, need to manage projects that are based overseas.


www.; christopherbell@onetel. net. uk; www. kcc. ac. uk


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