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NRL’s new office in the Wilton Centre, plans to provide a lasting solution to Teesside’s skills shortage.
Politicians and business leaders have already spoken of the challenge of finding the right people to match the tens of thousands of new roles which will be created by the new Freeport and other major investments.
That task is magnified by the number of skilled staff and contractors who moved away when work became harder to find.
Specialising in engineering and construction, NRL, recognises that there is no quick fix but believes it has chosen the perfect place to help bring about change.
“I don’t think there was any other location,” said Emma Lowden, who is the Branch Manager of the NRL office in Sunderland and will oversee the Teesside operation.
“We knew we wanted to be in Teesside and to be at the Wilton Centre. Our Sunderland office was dealing with more and more work opportunities in the Tees Valley, so it was really important for us to invest here.”
NRL itself has been busy taking on staff. Allan Stevenson - who has worked locally in recruitment since 2014 - will run the day-to-day operation at the Wilton Centre, which is on the fringe of the Freeport and part of the biggest network of science parks in the UK and Ireland.
Emma and Allan are looking at both short and long-term solutions. “It’s about encouraging people to come back to Teesside, but also looking at transferable skills. How open are companies to look at people with transferrable skills who might just need a little bit of training to move to emerging industries such as renewable energy and carbon capture?” said Emma.
“But there’s a need to invest in the next generation as well. We’ve got to use this as an opportunity to create a legacy in Teesside.”
That legacy has to begin early in education to encourage women, in particular, to choose a career in engineering or construction, she said.
“We tie into local universities and it’s fascinating that only 10% of engineering cohorts are actually female. But a lot of the engineering companies have targets of 50% so it’s about engaging with these women ahead of when they are picking their A Levels, because by the time they come to choose their degrees it’s too late.”
Meanwhile Allan will be working with High Tide – a charitable foundation in the Tees Valley which helps young people prepare for work and raise their career aspirations. He is keen to coach teenagers in CV writing and interviews.
“I want to make them aware that there’s a lot more to engineering than what they might think,” he said. “Back in the 90s when I was at school, we didn’t have anything like High Tide. There was no awareness about jobs and the local area, so I think it’s really important for us to be involved.
“It’s about opening their minds to what a fantastic industry engineering is. It’s no longer just boots on a construction site. There are opportunities for everybody from all walks of life. It’s fascinating and we just have to shout about it a bit more.”
The Wilton Centre is the 13th NRL office to open since the company was established in 1983.
The centre’s accommodation manager Claire Morton said it was a welcome addition: “Our location means that we are in exactly the right place for businesses who want to be based near all of the exciting new developments taking place.
“I am certain NRL will also be of great help to our occupiers who are engaged in engineering and construction.”
In just over a year Claire and her team have leased more than 30,000 square feet of office and laboratory space to new and existing occupiers. “I think it’s a combination of the major projects in this area and the work carried out at the Wilton Centre last year to make it even more appealing.”
Around £2m was invested by its new owner We are Pioneer Group (WAPG) in creating a new entrance and reception and two restaurants.