The Construction Plant-hire Association discuss the benefits and the importance of apprentices for the construction, mechanical and engineering sector.

In May 2013 at the inaugural PLANTWORX construction equipment exhibition, the Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) hosted the ‘Stars of the Future’ plant mechanic apprenticeship awards presentation at a star-studded ceremony full of young engineers, who took part in the competition from colleges nationwide. Presenting the awards was Richard Noble OBE – a land speed record holder and the pioneer of the Bloodhound SSC project.

The Stars of the Future competition is an annual award scheme devised by the CPA to recognize talented youngsters on plant mechanic apprentice schemes in colleges across the UK. In the inaugural competition there were a staggering 489 entries, making judging very tough. There were separate prizes for Level 2 and Level 3 trainee mechanics and college tutors monitored their students throughout the academic year both in their college and working environment and revealed their 2 ‘Stars of the Future’ apprentices.

The awards recognise and reward outstanding apprentices who not only bring ability and commitment to their learning and work, but who possess additional capabilities and stand out as not only being the foundations of the future of our industry, but also potential leaders.Richard Noble OBE, when speaking at the event explained that there is currently a huge shortage of engineers in the UK, with many firms finding it difficult to enlist young engineers. He said: “There is a serious problem finding engineers in the UK. The majority that we do find are in their 40s to 60s – we need new blood, and Stars of the Future is a good start.”

Haydn Steele, training manager at the CPA was responsible for organising the event. He said, “It was amazing to see so much support for the Stars of the Future which encapsulated the ethos of the industry, employers, trainers and the next generation of engineers. We have set a very high benchmark but we intend to make the scheme even bigger and better next year.”

Why are ‘Stars of the Future’ and other apprentice schemes vital to our industry?

A recent survey published by PwC has highlighted just how important apprentice schemes like this are. PwC economists have predicted that there could be as many as 100,000 jobs on the cards for industry sectors by 2020. These new jobs could include 50,000 new UK manufacturing jobs, 40,000 jobs in transport and 17,400 new jobs in construction.

Another published report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests that there will be 13.5 million job vacancies in the UK over the next 10 years, but only 7 million school and college leavers.

Of particular concern to the construction sector are leavers with professional level grades, everything from field service people to manufacturing employees, in addition to the beating heart of our industry; machine operators and plant mechanics, which keep our machines on the move.

Graham Black, Editor Earthmovers said: “If anyone is in any doubt about the quality of machine operators and plant mechanics required in the future, just look at modern agricultural tractors and excavators. With CVT transmissions, auto steering and enough buttons to fill the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, would you trust your investment and the project’s success to a temporary minimum wage employee?

“The Stars of the Future scheme is a good start in attracting more young adults into our industry and I hope entries top this year’s impressive 489 – Earthmovers is behind the scheme 100%.”

Nick Ground, president of the Construction Equipment Association (CEA) and MD of GKD Technik is in agreement with Mr Black he said, “The construction equipment sector is as advanced as aerospace and offers engineers of all disciplines the opportunity to be involved in the creation of advanced vehicles. What surprises me is the number of our sector CEO’s that were once apprentices. Surely that is attractive to future engineers?”

JCB is another forward thinker where apprenticeships are concerned. As part of the Young Talent programme, the company launched the brand new Advanced Apprenticeship in Engineering Manufacture in 2013 – a first in the UK. It is a Level 3 qualification with newly designed elements to reflect the importance of support functions needed by successful global businesses. The Apprenticeship will be run in conjunction with the JCB Academy and is aimed at 16-year-old school leavers.

Womenomics: Think Pink and fill the Construction Skills Gap

As an industry we cannot survive and prosper by only employing men; we must widen our net – at the sharp end of the industry, a female employee is a rarity but women can fill the constructions skills gap.

The CPA’s ‘Stars of the Future’ scheme is actively attracting more young women into our industry, as are other employers and colleges.

Yana Williams is the Principal at Hugh Baird College in Merseyside and is confident that women can be every bit as successful as their male counterparts in the construction industry – but only if more are actively encouraged to look seriously at the opportunities.

The Further Education College in Bootle runs construction and engineering courses for both school leavers and those already working in the sector, but the majority of those applying for places are still male.

Ms Williams said: “There are tremendous opportunities for women to make a career in construction but many never even consider the prospect. Frequently we hear girls say construction is ‘man’s work’. The industry however is hungry for skilled workers, male or female, to bridge the current shortfall. And it is not just female 16-year-old school leavers who are failing to exploit a need in the market. Women looking to retrain often do not consider the engineering sector at all.”

Jacqui Miller MBE, sales and marketing director at Miller International is a familiar face, well known throughout the international construction and quarrying industry, and a perfect example of how women can succeed and indeed fly high in the construction industry. As a committed, determined and inspiring businesswoman, Jacqui takes her responsibilities to the business and its brand very seriously and was recently recognised with an MBE for services to industry and international trade in the 2013 New Year Honours List.

Ms Miller was instrumental in changing how excavators are now used on site every day, not only in the UK, but across most western markets. In addition, she is still heavily involved in the very difficult process of planting the seed of change and changing the mind-sets of other more complicated markets like India, China and Indonesia to name but a few.

Ms Miller said “I’m a huge believer in youth opportunities for boys and girls and being one of the sectors trailblazers in direct sales and marketing, I would dearly like to see lots more young women get involved in all aspects of our industry, the talent is out there – what we must do is to encourage these young ladies to consider our sector as a REAL opportunity for a fulfilling career.”

The message is clear from apprentices on the ground – up to senior level leaders that a lot more needs to done to encourage more young adults, both male and female into the construction equipment industry and also encourage mature adults, wishing to retrain, that the Construction Equipment Sector IS the place to be. It’s the responsibility of employers, schools and colleges to bridge the construction skills gap – what are you waiting for?

The Stars of the Future 2014 event will be at Vertikal Days, lifting and access machinery exhibition at Haydock Park, Merseyside May 14th. Visit for more information.


Construction Plant-hire Association

Tel: 020 7796 3366


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here