The mosquito in the room

Emily Jones, a Graduate Engineer from The 5% Club member Balfour Beatty, speaks about her recent visit to Barnardo’s as part of  her company’s Building Better Futures Programme.

Read her thoughts on how companies in the construction industry have a duty to provide more than funding for vocational training programmes like Barnardo’s.




How did you get to your desk this morning? I travelled by car, train, tube and made the journey up the fish bowl lift at Head Office. In reality, I got to my Balfour Beatty desk by turning up at school, passing my exams, going to university and getting a graduate job. That all sounds pretty normal to me.

But I know that I was lucky. I was fortunate enough to be traditionally academic. I liked school, I was a natural classroom-based learner, and so I would attend and kind of enjoy it. I had no important responsibilities at home, so no real distractions or challenges. Not everyone has such easy circumstances.

When I was asked if I would like to visit some of our Building Better Futures charitable partners, I jumped at the chance, but also realised I didn’t know very much about them. I’ve volunteered at the London Youth Games, ‘dressed down’ on a Friday, putting my pound in the box, but I wasn’t completely aware of where our funding goes beyond this.

Emily Jones bigThe charitable partner I visited was The Hub – Barnardo’s Learning and Skills Centre. It takes on young people who find it difficult to engage in traditional school-based learning and offers tailored study to support different pupils’ needs. Visiting at the end of the school term, I was told of particular success stories as I watched three of the current pupils carrying out a model car building task. Examples of work completed by these pupils could be seen in each of the three construction-based workshops: Carpentry, plumbing and painting and decorating. Basic skills are taught in these areas, leading to foundation and intermediate Construction Skills qualifications.

One particular student – and her work – caught my eye. 18 months in, she has completed her Level 1 Diploma in Construction Skills and is returning in September to attain the next level. ‘Getting your head down’ was literal in her case. She barely turned away from the model car she had been tasked to build that day, and was wheels and doors ahead of the others. She completed work ahead of time and was tasked with extra work above and beyond the course content. There is hope to nominate her for the Young Builder of the Year Awards for 2014. She wouldn’t have had this opportunity in her school.

Alongside Construction Skills diplomas, the staff at The Hub teach a core curriculum, including IT skills, literacy and numeracy, as well as working to get a CSCS card. Depending on specific needs, pupils can attend for 1 to 4 days. It was pretty amazing to see young people who had previously had poor attendance at school re-engage with many achieving significantly better attendance at The Hub.

This is just one example of where our money is going. Our fundraising and the company’s match funding helps to ensure this programme carries on being successful. The next academic year will see between 20 and 30 pupils compared to six in the last, as well as improved facilities and the introduction of a breakfast club. Funding is one thing, but what struck me was the obvious gap in how companies in the construction industry can support this type of programme. These pupils need more than skills, they need experience. We’ve helped to get them on a learning path towards a future career in construction, but to keep them there requires mentoring, guidance, access to work experience and apprenticeships. We have the ability.

Companies in the industry can make a difference. Anita Roddick, of The Body Shop said; “if you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room”. It’s so exciting to see Balfour Beatty graduates and apprentices who are keen and not too far removed from the kids at Barnardo’s, offering them an insight into the world of construction. Companies like ours have a responsibility to provide more than funding, and it is initiatives like the Barnardo’s Hub that make me proud to work at Balfour Beatty.


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