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North-east civil engineers address skills shortage with new apprenticeships

Staff and apprentices at WM Donald in Aberdeenshire.
Staff and apprentices at WM Donald in Aberdeenshire.

Civil engineering and construction firm WM Donald is tackling skills shortages in the industry by launching an in-house apprenticeship scheme.

The company, based in Netherley, near Stonehaven, has for the time being teamed up with a college in Glasgow for part of the training.

But the long-term aim is to have the classroom-based learning take place closer to home, as part of an industry-wide scheme for the north-east.

“It is now more important than ever for the construction industry to take a long hard look at its future to ensure we have the necessary skilled people to meet private and public demand for new housing and infrastructure.”

Rachel O’ Donnell, WM Donald

WM Donald said it had taken on 12 apprentices from across the region, with the aim of “providing the best experience and training, giving access to the latest technology and innovations, and showing how exciting and rewarding a career in civil engineering is”.

The two-year course has been arranged in partnership with City of Glasgow College, which the 44-year-old company said was the nearest training provider to offer it.

From September, students will travel down to Glasgow for nine two-week blocks over the next two years – Covid-19 restrictions permitting. Outside of college, WM Donald will have apprentices buddied up on-site and offered as much practical, technical experience as possible.

Meanwhile, operations director Ian Gray and human resources manager Rachel O’ Donnell are working closely with industry peers and North East Scotland College to stimulate demand for the general construction apprenticeship programme to be run in the Aberdeen area.

Mr Gray said “The north-east, like the rest of the country, is suffering from a shortage of qualified skilled construction operatives to facilitate the demand of a buoyant construction sector.

“This led us to contact North East Scotland College to look at running an apprenticeship course in Aberdeen tailored to suit the diverse nature of construction, as well as a route to employment for those who prefer working with their hands in an outdoor environment.”

WM Donald ‘investing substantially’ in training and development

Ms O’ Donnell said: “WM Donald is investing substantially in the training and development of all our current and future employees.

“It is now more important than ever for the construction industry to take a long hard look at its future to ensure we have the necessary skilled people to meet private and public demand for new housing and infrastructure.

“Apprentices are the future of WM Donald but the scheme is also for the benefit of the wider industry.”

She added: “Our youngest apprentice is 16 and the oldest is 23. Giving them experience on-site, combined with classroom study is critical to ensuring our 12 apprentices learn new skills and stay in the industry.”

Targeting Tayside

WM Donald, founded in 1977, also has an office in Inverness and recently announced an expansion to Perth to take advantage of growing demand for its services on Tayside.

With more than 160 employees, WM Donald has been at the heart of major infrastructure projects including the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, Aberdeen Football Club’s Kingsford training facility and the Granite City’s harbour expansion.

It was recently hailed as an example to all businesses of what can be achieved in reducing their CO2 emissions. The plaudits came after an environmental audit, by Aberdeen-based consultancy Carbon-Zero, in which it achieved carbon neutral status.

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