Working together on better connections

Highways gets an exclusive briefing on how an upgrade on the M4 has led to the launch of a unique collaborative training programme in bridge engineering.

The Balfour Beatty VINCI joint venture team working on the M4 Junction 3-12 upgrade recently carried out their first collaborative training programme – featuring the UK’s largest steel model bridge.

The first of its kind in the UK, the 18-metre model footbridge shares characteristics with the new Thames Bray Bridge in Maidenhead, one of 11 bridges being installed as part of the M4 upgrade between London and Reading.

The model structure provided 17 apprentices, split across several teams, with the opportunity to learn and apply skills involved in project management, focusing on safety, scheduling, costing, quality, construction methods and the building process.

Run in collaboration with National Highways, the Arcadis Jacobs joint venture (AJJV) and BAM Construction Training, the comprehensive training programme was spread over six weeks, with a further 10 days dedicated to the construction methodology and ultimately the bridge build.

Having received the design brief, apprentices were tasked with preparing tendering plans outlining the logistical and pricing information, which would then be presented to a mock client committee consisting of a group of experts.

After the tendering process, all teams experienced the bridge build in a real-world scenario. The task included building the bridge across an imaginary river; requiring the apprentices to think on their feet, and consider the appropriate plant, machinery and construction methods. The collaborative training programme demonstrates Balfour’s commitment to going above and beyond for its people – including the many apprentices, graduates and trainees that the company employs each year, having committed to increasing its intake by 60% last year.

The unique opportunity provided by the model bridge will enable entrants to the industry to learn and hone valuable real-world skills, strengthening their armoury, and ultimately aiding their careers in construction.

Glenn Boyd, Balfour Beatty VINCI project manager, said: ‘I’d like to thank the monumental efforts of our joint venture partners that have gone into making this project one of a kind. We hope that this is just the start for our training bridge programme and that in two to three years down the line a lasting legacy will have been left for the construction industry’s budding young apprentices.’

Steve Foxley, National Highways programme manager for the M4, said: ‘I was very impressed by the teamwork shown by these young apprentices, and their obvious dedication to the job.

‘It is vitally important on any project that we provide opportunities to develop new and emerging talent. These apprentices now have the challenge of spreading the message to other young people about the excellent job opportunities available within construction and engineering.’

Peter Kemm, associate director of structures for Jacobs, said: ‘Seeing the apprentices and graduates learning from the planning process and hands-on construction of this AJJV designed M4 Training Bridge was very satisfying.

‘The AJJV design had a robust approach, which made the most of standardised parts and connections, suitable for manual handling, and sufficiently flexible to suit different ideas of erection methods. The apprentices and graduates worked together collaboratively to solve and overcome real-world construction challenges safely.

‘This gave them invaluable hands-on experience of working together as a project team with other parties to achieve a collective goal. It was incredibly rewarding being part of their development and seeing their growth during the span of this pioneering educational investment.’ Matt Durant, BAM Construction training managing director, said: ‘We’re always up for trying new things at the training centre, but this programme really stole the show.

‘It was fantastic to see the bridge take shape piece by piece, but even better to see the apprentices’ confidence develop as the project developed. We wish them all the best as well as a long and exciting career in construction.’

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