Tideway Case Study

How Tunnelling Operative apprentices tunnelled their way to success on London's landmark sewer project!

A group of tunnelling operative apprentices have helped to bring one of London's oldest pieces of Victorian engineering into the 21st century. They recently undertook their end-point assessments while working on Tideway's super sewer tunnel expansion project in London.

The tunnelling apprentices, employed by a number of specialist tunnelling contractors, have been working on the tunnel being constructed under London's river that will prevent tens of millions of tonnes of pollution making its way into the River Thames every year. Most of this first cohort of apprentices have completed their apprenticeships and have been retained on the project as skilled tunnelling operatives.

This expansion of London's sewer network, which is due for completion in 2025, will be 25 kilometres long, wider than Big Ben's clock face and deeper in places than Nelson's Column is tall.

The apprentices, who have been working on the project for the last 18 months, recently completed their end-point assessments, one element of which was an on-site assessment of the practical skills they have developed during the apprenticeship. They demonstrated skills in areas ranging from working safely underground, understanding and following emergency escape procedures, directing plant and machinery and moving and handling all the resources needed to build the tunnel. During their apprenticeship, they accessed the tunnels, working as part of a team alongside qualified tunnellers and engineers.

Conor Grogan, labour manager from Rorcon Limited, who saw two apprentices successfully achieve their Level 2 Tunnelling Operative Apprenticeships, said he would recommend apprenticeships for other employers. Conor said: If you have the right resources to support and train these guys, then do it! The industry needs a wave of younger, skilled people and apprenticeships are a great way of achieving this. It hasn't been easy, and a lot of hard work has gone into this scheme, but the outcome has been worth it.

Morgan Clarke from Reliable Contractors, said they were delighted to now have three qualified tunnelling apprentices. She said: Tunnelling is a very difficult industry to break into. It requires a lot of skill and rarely holds any entry level opportunities. It has been absolutely wonderful to enable new starters to the industry to be exposed to so many elements of tunnelling on such a grand and historic project. We would have never had the opportunity to do so without the creation of this tunnelling standard, so we feel incredibly privileged to be one of the first employers to help deliver it.

We have seen these young people grow into skilled professionals, making such a positive impact on site and contributing to a change in mindset of those on-site who may have been sceptical about the prospect of having apprentices in such a challenging environment. They will be the trailblazers in addressing the industry skill gaps and I have high hopes this will be the start of a new generation of tunnellers.

Gerry Keigher from Tunnelcraft, which employed three apprentices that completed the programme, including one nominated for Young Tunneller of the Year, said: This is an excellent apprenticeship opportunity. It is a credit to the Employer Group and CITB who got together to create the standard and persevered to get it approved for delivery.

Harkesh Ram from Dudley College, said they were very proud of the apprentices. Harkesh said: Over the last 18 months, the journey for both the apprentices and us as the provider has been exciting and enabled me to have a greater understanding of the tunnelling professional. We look forward to celebrating their successes.

Richard McClelland, director of end point assessment organisation QFI, said nine apprentices passed successfully overall, with seven gaining merits and two scoring distinctions. He added, as a civil engineer, it was a privilege to contribute to the assessment of Dudley College Tunnelling Operative apprentices. What an opportunity for all of us involved to learn and develop. Congratulations to each and every one of the apprentices. I certainly will not forget the excitement of assessing apprentices in an active tunnel excavation making its way along and below London.