Employer Case Study – Balfour Beatty

Where we were

Plugging a skills gap

As part of the Crossrail project – building the new Elizabeth Line in London – we had a shortage of skilled materials technicians. On a project like this the risk is immense – our concrete has to be guaranteed for 125 years, so testing is crucial. We were also facing a longer-term problem, with a growing number of large infrastructure projects coming through. Our existing staff and senior leaders were aging and we had no pipeline of proficient newcomers to step into those roles. 

We were desperate to find people with the right attitude and potential to become materials testing technicians, but the candidate pool just wasn’t there. Apprenticeships seemed like the answer, but none of the apprenticeship programmes at that time quite offered the right type of training.

How we went about it

Developing the new apprenticeship programme

Tiro was chosen to adapt the existing Laboratory Technician Apprenticeship programme. They are the leading provider in the South East, but more importantly they share our values. 

We all believe in apprenticeships as the best way to grow an exceptionally skilled and loyal workforce. We put in the hard yards to solve problems together, and believe in treating people well. 

The Tiro team worked hard to understand the specific training our materials technicians would need. They developed a tailored apprenticeship programme with some specialist modules, including Concrete Science, Geology, and Environmental Science. 

This became the new Level 3 Materials Technician Apprenticeship programme, which is now recognised by The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining as a route to the Construction Skills Certification Scheme and for entry onto the Register of Science Technicians.

Recruiting hungry apprentices

Tiro worked with us to develop a thorough recruitment process, which they led with input from our HR team. They handled the most resource-intensive aspects of recruiting apprentices: sifting applications, screening candidates, and conducting initial telephone interviews. They hand-picked a number of high-quality candidates, and helped us to run the assessment centres and select the final recruits. 

With Tiro’s help, we hired our first ever cohort of apprentice materials technicians. They also upskilled existing staff using nationally recognised NVQs. And they trained our existing staff to mentor the apprentices, which has been really energising for the whole team. 

Where it’s taken us

Apprentices adding value for Balfour Beatty

From the beginning, we were excited to see how quickly our apprentices began to add value to the team. 

We did have some initial concerns about our apprentices having to spend 20% of their hours in off-the-job training. But we needn’t have worried. Tiro made really good use of that time, delivering training on-site, and it’s clear that apprentices perform better for it.

Successful apprentices, successful technicians

We began offering the Materials Technician Apprenticeship in June 2017, with Tiro as our training and recruitment partner. Since then we’ve had 24 learners complete the 2-year* programme. 

We’ve seen an incredible 93% success rate for our apprentices and NVQ learners, compared with an achievement rate of around 66% for apprentices across the sector. 

Some of our original cohort are now managing multi-million pound projects of their own as senior technicians. 

The next batch of apprentices

We currently have 15 more Materials Technician Apprentices working through the programme at Balfour Beatty. 

Between them they are involved in numerous major infrastructure projects, including the HS2 high-speed rail link, the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, the Thames Tideway super-sewer, and many smart motorways. 

We can’t wait to see what they go on to achieve.

Partners in training and recruitment

As you’d expect when you’re building a bespoke programme like this, there have been ups and downs along the way, and many lessons learned. But the ultimate results speak for themselves.

We have developed a strong, honest partnership with Tiro as our training and recruitment provider. As a result, Balfour Beatty now has a strong pipeline of skilled staff coming through, all with the knowledge, skills and behaviours we need. This means we can continue to grow, and we’re future proofing the business too. 

We happily advocate for apprenticeships as a route for employers to plug their skills gaps. Through this partnership it’s made us true pacesetters, and the whole industry looks on with envy! 

Read the stories of two successful graduates of the Materials Technician Apprenticeship at Balfour Beatty in our apprentice case studies.

*Duration of Materials Technician Apprenticeship programme varies between 21 and 24 months.

“Apprenticeships are not ‘one size fits all’, and Tiro really listened to our requirements rather than telling us what we needed. You’re entrusting the future development of your team to someone over a number of years, so our strong partnership with Tiro has been the key to the scheme’s success.”

Graham Booker

Lead Materials Engineer, Balfour Beatty

“Our first apprentices to complete the programme, Dan and Billy, have done exceptionally well. They’ve grasped the opportunities they’ve had with both hands, and we’re really proud of what they’ve achieved.”

Graham Booker

Lead Materials Engineer, Balfour Beatty

“The apprenticeship scheme really made the difference between success and failure for Balfour Beatty. We knew we needed more Materials Technicians coming through, and we had to plug that skills gap ourselves. Thanks to our partnership with Tiro, it’s gone significantly better than we expected. The quality of the apprentices has been very high, and we’ve achieved an excellent retention rate. We’ve been able to fast-track people into roles with significant responsibilities. We’d never have done that before after just 3 years in the job.”

John Ferguson

Chief Materials Engineer, Balfour Beatty

“It’s vital that apprenticeships have backing from the very top of the organisation. There was a lot of work involved in persuading senior management to back the scheme, but it’s paying dividends now. It makes a big difference when apprentices know the company is determined for them to succeed.”

Graham Booker

Chief Materials Engineer, Balfour Beatty