Supporting work-based learning in East Anglia

Men and women in smart dress, some are wearing hard hats and high vis vests

Simon Severwright and Matt McLaughlin with Barnes' new management trainees - Credit: Warren Page

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

For over four decades, Barnes Construction has been helping local school leavers take their first career step, by offering a combination of work experience and degree level study through its Management Trainee Programme.

The company established the scheme in 1979, in its second year of trading, and it has launched and assisted many successful careers to-date. Currently over half of the managerial staff have come through this route, including three of the current directors, Mark Bailey, Chris Bruce, and Simon Severwright, who was recently promoted to surveying director.

A former pupil at Thurleston High School, Simon joined Barnes in 1997. After completing his training, he opted to become a quantity surveyor and was supported by the business to study part-time at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford to achieve his degree. He then worked his way up through the business becoming associate director, then surveying director in August 2021.

Together with senior quantity surveyor Matt McLaughlin, Simon oversees the management trainee programme, and he explains how it is structured so that trainees learn about the business as a whole.

“Unlike other organisations, who tend to recruit for specific departments, we provide our trainees with a structured plan where they gain a detailed understanding of the business.

“Construction management covers many professional disciplines and, over five years, candidates spend time in each department within the business, under the care of a mentor; someone who has usually gone through the management trainee programme themselves.

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“Areas covered include quantity surveying, site management, design management, estimating and planning, bid and contracts management. This, in addition to time spent on construction sites, makes it easier for recruits and the company to decide upon the most suitable career path for each trainee.

“In addition to the work-based experience, trainees also study for a BSc Hons in Construction Management on day release at university, which is fully funded by Barnes.”

Throughout the years, Barnes has remained committed to its programme regardless of the economic climate; recruiting in the pandemic and previous recessions - refusing to allow trading conditions to dictate its training policy.

“Every year, we recruit from local schools,” Simon continues. “We are proactive and in normal circumstances we visit the schools, spending time with the careers advisers and having one-to-ones with the students. During the pandemic this hasn’t been possible, but undaunted, we have continued our chats online. The result has been that we have taken on four new management trainees this year, who join the seven currently going through the programme.

“We already have strong relationships with some local schools, but we are keen to talk to others who may be interested. We achieved a milestone at Barnes, when in 2018, we recruited our 75th management trainee. And today, out of the 78 staff in managerial positions, 41 have come through this route.

So, what is Barnes looking for when offering a place on the programme?

Matt explains: “As well as looking for young people who get good A Level grades, or equivalent vocational qualifications, we are also interested in those that are keen to learn and can demonstrate they have outside interests and hobbies. We also want someone who shows initiative in their own self-development.”

And why should a young person look to apply to the programme?

“When I joined the management trainee programme from Stoke High School, what appealed to me was that I would be earning a salary, getting real on-the-job experience whilst studying for my degree in construction management, which offers a myriad of different opportunities with roles that suit all different personality types.

“The great thing was that I was years ahead of the other people studying at university full time, as I was practicing and applying my work experiences to my learning, and my learning to my work experiences. It was hard work, but well worth it. Another bonus was that there were no course fees to pay, so I didn’t end up with a load of student debt when I’d completed my degree.

“Yet, the thing that really sets the management trainee programme at Barnes apart from the rest, is that it gives you a real insight into the different aspects and functions of the business and construction generally, so you can make a well-informed decision - based on your own experience - on where you want to develop your future career.”

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