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Students on track at Constructionarium to turn theory into practice

Posted: 6th July 2022

Constructionarium is a not-for-profit organisation based within a 19-acre bespoke training facility in Norfolk. It provides essential practical programmes for Built Environment students in higher and further education and for professionals across the sector who lack practical application by “Turning Theory Into Practice”.

Last week students from the College of West Anglia attended Constructionarium, for the first time, to complete a rail civil engineering project called The Brunel Line - a challenging experience-led learning event where students plan, build and operate a section of railway line using real construction materials, processes, and plant.

Over the five days on site, students have surveyed the route, designed the railway line, created the cuttings and embankments, planned and carried out the construction of the track (c90 meters), assembled a bridge and lifted it into position - all leading to them riding a train along the route on opening day - Friday.

As the week drew to a close, Constructionarium and students welcomed visitors to site to see the learning in action and to help the students celebrate their success.

This unique opportunity was funded by B&CE – a not-for-profit pension provider for the construction industry and is the first of three funded events to provide practical skills to college students. Nicola Sinclair, Head of Charitable Trust and Construction Industry Liaison at B&CE saw the students finalise their track laying. She said “B&CE is delighted to provide this award to Constructionarium. The facility is very impressive and inspirational for young people and new entrants coming into the industry as well as those seeking a career change. The opportunities that Constructionarium presents to everybody working across the Built Environment provides a natural vehicle for success and something which B&CE is very pleased to have supported.”

Jane Burton, Course Director at the College of West Anglia said “As a beneficiary of this funding, our students have had the unique opportunity to sample first hand the world of rail civil engineering in a safe environment. As the week has unfolded, we have seen the learning crystalising in the students’ minds, their individual personal growth and maturity, sitting alongside the experience of working as a team cohesively to deliver a successful conclusion. I have no doubt that this learning has been of real benefit. We look forward to returning in the Autumn with a second group.

James Wild is the local MP to Constructionarium and has visited the facility on a number of occasions. He said “Constructionarium is a great organisation that is providing practical opportunities for young people to gain valuable experience and skills. It was encouraging to see the team work and enthusiasm among the students as they successfully delivered this project. With demand high, there has not been a better time for school and college leavers to consider a career in construction.”

The students also had the opportunity to meet Nick Raynsford, former Deputy Chairman of Crossrail and current Board member of Constructionarium. On handing out the completion certificates, he said “Whenever I visit the Constructionarium site I am impressed with the calibre of talent I meet. The knowledge, skills and H&S behaviours that the students have learnt and demonstrate at the end of the week are unrivalled. They each will take away with them a practical toolkit that they can use in their future educational choices and/or careers. This week has been a sample of working in the rail industry albeit on a scaled version. The students should be very pleased with what they have achieved, and it was very rewarding to see them ride the train in celebration”.

The guests were invited by Constructionarium to see this project in action and for an update on their plans for developing their site into a multi-disciplinary training facility.

Julia Stevens, CEO of Constructionarium, had briefed the visitors about Constructionarium’s history. Established to address a skills gap for graduates entering the industry with no site experience, it now sees in excess of 850 students a year. It has a portfolio of large scaled replicas of iconic projects (such as The Gherkin, Millau Cable Bridge, Barcelona Tower etc) which are constructed in a week and provide real context to the learning undertaken at college and university; alongside providing a raft of personal and employability skills. The model and facilities are also used by industry for induction, team building and personal development learning. As a CITB Approved Training Organisation, Constructionarium are also celebrating news that employers who are in scope for CITB levy can benefit from receiving a CITB tier 3 grant of £120 per person by attending their Constructionarium experiential learning events. Constructionarium is the only training provider able to offer this.

The unique organisation is developing its offering by building on its 19-year success through decarbonising its own projects, facility, and making a transition into a multi-disciplinary training facility for the Built Environment sector. This will aim for a closer collaboration between academics, designers, and constructors to educate students in the critical decisions of retrofit vs newbuild. Keith Clarke, Chairman, has publicly stated the urgent need for decarbonising the industry at all levels, individuals having the skills to deal with the digitalisation the industry is pushing for, and how these can be implemented safely on the wider construction sites - not just the mega projects being undertaken. Interest in Constructionarium’s NetZero webinars and its app, which is in development – the NetZeroHub, has been very successful during the past 18 months and has enabled employees at all levels to understand the issues and challenges affecting the sector.