The Stars of our Future


Over 400 people attended the CPA ‘Stars of the Future’ ceremony at this year’s Plantworx, to celebrate the outstanding achievements of the young people who are the future of the industry. Will Mann reports…

The plant hire sector – not to mention the wider construction industry – has a bright future judging by the quality of the entrants at this year’s ‘Stars of the Future’ ceremony for apprentice mechanics.

The event, organised by the CPA (Construction Plant-hire Association) and held during the Plantworx construction equipment show at Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome in Leicestershire, was attended by over 300 people.

Celebrated entrepreneur and engineer Richard Noble OBE, who is attempting to break the world land speed record next year, presented the awards to 20 winners, who were picked from over 500 entries.

In a rousing speech, Noble told the ceremony how important the plant sector’s engineers were to the future of the country. “We need to rebuild Britain; we need new airports, new roads, new railways,” he said.

“That requires an innovative construction industry and innovative construction equipment, so the young people here today are not only this industry’s future, they are the country’s future.”

Noble also gave a fascinating talk on the progress of his Bloodhound high-speed car project, which will aim to hit speeds of over 1,000mph when it makes the world record attempt in 2016.

“The project is crucial in inspiring the engineers of tomorrow, as we have found when visiting over 5,000 schools, colleges and universities” he told the CPA Bulletin (see interview).

There were 20 regional winners of the Stars of the Future awards from across the country, with separate prizes for level 2 and 3 apprentices, plus two national winners for each level, picked by the judges.

The national award winners – Paige Carter (level 2) and Darragh Spencer (level 3) – attracted exceptional praise. Paige, the first female winner in the awards, was “overjoyed”. She said:

“When people ask how I feel about working in a male-dominated industry, I say that the men I work with could not have been more welcoming; I felt that I fitted in from day one.”

Darragh, who has scored a ‘double’, having won the level 2 prize in 2014, was “delighted” at winning again, and believes his experience as an apprentice will help further his wider career ambitions.

“There are so many opportunities in this industry,” he said. “I’m now a plant manager and buyer, and last week I negotiated the purchase of a £60,000 piece of equipment. Those are skills I’ve learned in this role.

“People need a better impression of construction. It’s more than the brickies who come round to do some work on your house. Beyond that, there is so much more, and so much variety. My ambition is to become a construction director and work on renewable energy projects like wind farms – I want to put myself on the cutting edge of innovation.” Master of ceremonies for the event was CPA training and safety manager Haydn Steele. He said: “The calibre of entrants has gone through the roof for this year’s awards, compared to the last time out. It has been a really difficult job picking the winners.” CPA director Kevin Minton echoed the view of Richard Noble that the young engineers gathered at Plantworx had a vital role to play in shaping the UK economy.

“This sector is worth over £4bn and has over 200,000 operators, so there are huge opportunities for young people,” he told the audience at the Stars for the Future awards. “The apprentices here today are at the start of their career, and they will play a crucial role in not just this industry, but UK plc as a whole.”

Q&A with Richard Noble OBE

Richard Noble is an entrepreneur and engineer who is attempting to set a new world land-speed record in 2016, with his Bloodhound SSC (supersonic car), which will attempt to pass the 1,000mph mark. Noble, who was project director for the Thrust SSC which set the current record in 1997, has championed engineering throughout his career. After the CPA Stars of the Future awards, he gave an exclusive interview to CPA Bulletin on how the country needs to inspire its next generation of engineers.

Why is Stars of the Future so important?

We need to rebuild Britain; the country needs new airports, new roads, new railways. That requires an innovative construction industry and innovative construction equipment, so the young people here today are not only this industry’s future, they are the country’s future. But to draw people into this industry, we need to inspire them.

What inspired you to launch the land speed record attempts?

I am doing what I’m doing now partly because I went to watch an attempt on the world water speed record in 1952 – and that inspired me. Hopefully schoolchildren and students who see our Bloodhound project will feel the same way.

Can Bloodhound inspire people to become engineers?

We need to think about how young people can be inspired to follow this career. Post World War 2, the UK had a fantastic aerospace industry, because people could see planes like Vulcans and Lightnings flying overhead, and that inspired them to want to become engineers. If you look at engineering student numbers in the USA between 1960 and 1970, they rocketed because of the NASA Moon Landings programme – it was inspirational. That’s what we’re trying to achieve with Bloodhound.

What education work has Bloodhound done so far?

Bloodhound is chiefly an education project designed to inspire future generations to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by showcasing these subjects in the most exciting way possible. The education programme covers all ages from primary through to university.

We have 5,714 schools, colleges and universities now involved in the programme, and the University of the West of England have had to close entry to their engineering programme because demand is so high.

What else can be done to boost interest in engineering?

The media and schools are partly at fault for allowing too much of a drift towards the arts subjects. But we could be better at selling engineering. It is innovative and creative and stimulating, but is not promoted as such. It has a stigma of being oily, dirty work – which is of course nonsense.

Does engineering need more government support?

Manufacturing – and therefore engineering – needs to be a bigger share of UK GDP. It’s currently 11% and needs to go towards 25%. We should stop thinking the City will solve all our problems. We are £1.5trn in debt and the only way we are going to clear that is by exporting, which means manufacturing.

There’s a lazy view in this country that manufacturing is part of our past. But there is always a market for re-engineering a product to make it lighter or faster or more energy-efficient. If you can introduce new technology you will corner that market.

What advice would you give to the young engineers at Stars of the Future?

Start at the bottom. Try to understand the nuts and the bolts of the industry from the workshop up, it gives you a great grounding which there is no substitute for. And you need to be able to fix things as well – not just build new machines from scratch – that carries real value.

And any advice to their managers?

Communication is poor in engineering. We are good at the technical side of the job, but less so at teamwork and helping our people develop. At our company, we try to empower people to do what they are good at. I trust my staff to get on with their jobs. I don’t want them to be always trying to suck up to the boss – people like that don’t fit in at our company. When workers are always worrying about the management it stifles innovation – and innovation is key in this business.

Construction Plant Hire Association

Tel: 020 7796 3366


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