Job offers guaranteed for first graduates of civil engineering course

THE first students of a new course that was introduced to address the skills shortage in the civil engineering industry had plenty to celebrate at their graduation ceremony when they were all guaranteed job offers.

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David MacDonald, Vice Chair of CECA Scotland (far left), with the UHI Inverness graduates of CECA Scotland Academy (from left) Ronin McKay, Alison Wright, Craig Watts, Georgia Butler, Jayden Wallace, Josh Fisher, Jordan Strachan, Jack Allison and Mikey Bell.

The graduation was held at the Balloch campus of UHI Inverness  to celebrate the very first group of successful students from the new CECA Scotland Academy Civil Engineering Operations course taught at UHI Inverness.

Representatives from a number of civil engineering firms from across Scotland were invited to the inaugural event. They met with the nine students after the presentation of certificates to begin the recruitment process which guarantees job offers for them all.

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association Scotland designed the course to meet the workforce needs of an industry with a growing skills gap. Energy Skills Partnership (ESP) worked with UHI Inverness and other colleges to introduce the course within the SQA qualification framework, and the Scottish Funding Council also provided support.

It is projected that the Highlands needs up to 150 civil engineering operatives over the next three years. The pilot course was introduced to expand the civil engineering workforce to build the future infrastructure projects set by the Scottish Government. 

Civil engineering is critical to supporting local communities by building the vital infrastructure and transport links they rely on, but its workforce is ageing. The 18-week course provides an important new route into the industry and will support the attraction and retention of new talent.

The graduation included a presentation from CECA Scotland on future Highland infrastructure projects. UHI Inverness staff also took the opportunity to thank employers for supporting the students’ training by providing materials, site visits and lectures.

The students began studying for the NPA Construction Operations qualification in August, attending five days a week from 9am to 5pm. They learned a range of practical skills at the Balloch campus, which was supported with classroom learning at the Inverness Campus.

William MacLeod, the Depute Curriculum Lead for Construction, Technology and Plumbing at UHI Inverness who led the course, said: "The pilot CECA Scotland Academy at UHI Inverness has been a tremendous success for all involved. It has created opportunities in the construction industry for early school leavers and has taught them new, practical skills such as laying and finishing concrete, digging trenches, drainage, and kerbing. It was constructed with a focus on practical teaching and involvement and has provided candidates with site visits to construction companies, talks from experienced guest lectures, and given them exposure to the construction industry in a very real and practical way."

The UHI Inverness lecturing staff members who led the project are now sharing their experience and best practice with the Scottish colleges that will be introducing the course in January and August of this year.

Carrie Higgins, Tertiary Education Leader at UHI Inverness, said: “The opportunity arose to work in partnership with other colleges, ESP and CECA Scotland to design an industry-informed programme that would support industry and provide excellent employment opportunities. Working on the design, approval and pilot of this programme has been exciting and seeing the first group go from strength-to-strength has been fantastic. I wish the CECA Scotland Academy graduates all the very best of luck and would like to thank CECA Scotland and their members for their generous support and ESP for supporting the colleges with this excellent and innovative programme.” 

UHI Inverness has recruited for the next cohort of students to join the course which begins this month. It has proved very popular.

David MacDonald, Managing Director of Beauly-based Global Infrastructure (Scotland) Ltd and Vice Chair of CECA Scotland, said: “The requirement to decarbonise the Scottish and UK economies through the generation of green power and the electrification of public and private transport means that there is a decade or more of sustainable growth in jobs and opportunities in the civil engineering sector in the north of Scotland. These are well paid jobs with the potential of lifelong career advancement and development for any young person joining our sector.

“I wish to thank UHI Inverness for sharing our vision for the CECA Scotland Academy and being a trailblazer in understanding the employment needs of civil engineering contractors. I am certain that this is just the beginning of a very long and successful partnership.”

The employers who attended the graduation included Global Infrastructure, Pat Munro, BEAR Scotland, Balfour Beatty, UB Civils, RJ McLeod and Wills Brothers.

Mark Smith, Construction Manager of Pat Munro (Alness) Ltd, said: “Our support for the CECA Academy stems from its supportive approach to addressing the skills gap, its commitment to practical education, and the achieved results we've observed in the students who have participated in the programme.

“We have witnessed first-hand the positive impact of the CECA Academy on students' aptitude and readiness for the workplace. The programme not only equips them with technical skills but also instils a strong work ethic and an understanding of industry standards.”