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 ageing 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.
"I started as an apprentice at St Richards in September 2021. I really enjoyed the learning on the job and the online learning of the course content. The school was really supportive and was very flexible with how I completed my apprenticeship. I completed my apprenticeship in Jan 2023 and was supported the whole way through by the mentor from the school and the tutor from Tiro. Once I finished my apprenticeship, I had the opportunity to progress to senior science technician. I have learnt so much in just a short time and have really enjoyed it and all the opportunities that have arisen during this time."Emily Barr Level 3 Laboratory Technician - St Richards Catholic College
"The main surprise from this apprenticeship is that I learned practical and transferable skills that I did not learn from university, that can be transferred into other workplaces."Liam Boyes Materials Technician Apprentice - Aggregate Industries
"I struggled a lot early on in my apprenticeship and to be honest at one point I did honestly think I wasn’t going to be able to finish it. Looking back now that would have been a huge mistake! During my apprenticeship I was always made to feel equal with others and shared equal responsibility, often working independently on site and in the lab carrying out UKAS Accredited tests. "Jack Hodson Materials Technician Apprentice - Balfour Beatty Vinci
"With all the knowledge I have gained through Tiro and KEVICC, I believe that I can take on any challenges I face. "Patrisia Hincheva Laboratory Technician Apprentice - King Edward VI Community College
"We've struggled to grow and retain new skill. The apprenticeship programme has allowed us to attract young, local talent with an eagerness to learn. Within 5 years we expect our skill level to have developed to a world class fastener manufacturer throughout."Chris Wilson QESH Manager, AF Fasteners
"The Level 3 program has taught me how to balance work on top of education, and I now feel confident to study at Degree level. The experience I have gained at Waters has made me grow as a professional. Without all of this I would not be able to take the next step into a Level 6 apprenticeship. "Alexandra Lee Laboratory Technician Apprentice - Waters Corporation
"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."
"The team at Tiro are extremely knowledgeable when it comes to apprenticeships, and they have a wealth of experience in our sectors. They quickly developed a bespoke programme to meet our business needs and adapted to using our own recruitment portal. By following their well-structured recruitment and selection process, they have found great candidates for us every time. And they’ve gone above and beyond to deliver excellent customer service throughout the process."Linda Matthews Learning and Development Manager
"Tiro pre-screened all of our candidates and made sure that every person we interviewed was of a really high calibre. The Tutors do a great job of supporting and encouraging our apprentices throughout their learning journey, and checking in frequently to make sure they are meeting our expectations. We are delighted with their support."Mariana Burrows Laboratory Manager / Polymer Applications Specialist
"Tiro truly is a wonderful company to work for. Tiro's culture and ways of working really does set them apart from other employers. The best part of being a Tiro employee is working alongside such positive, friendly, and supportive people. Every day I am excited to get stuck into my tasks, and make an impact by setting Tiro apprentices up for success. "Danielle Lea Exams & Admissions Officer