North East property and energy firm The Banks Group has invested in creating a new County Durham training academy to help ensure it has continuing access to a skilled team of plant mechanics.

The family-owned business has converted facilities at its Thrislington depot into a new classroom and conference facility that will act as a dedicated base for its plant mechanic traineeships and upskilling programmes.

The eight-week mechanical traineeship is planned to run up to three times a year and will act as a talent identification process and feeder for the company’s plant apprenticeships programme, with successful candidates being offered longer-term training programmes to develop the technical skills needed by its plant management team and Banks Plant Solutions subsidiary.

Banks worked with Ixion Holdings, a subsidiary of major UK employment and skills charity The Shaw Trust Group, on the construction of the new training facility and engaged 11 people from Spennymoor, West Cornforth and other parts of County Durham through Ixion’s Legacy Project employability scheme to help carry out the work required under the supervision of the Banks project team.

The Legacy Project is designed to give the participants essential skills leading to the attainment of a Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) card through their work, which will help them in their efforts towards finding jobs in the construction and allied industries, as well as an NVQ Level 2 qualification that was gained through a mixture of modular and practical assessments.

One of the Legacy Project team members has already secured a position on the Banks Mining plant team, while the details of the others are being kept on file in case any suitable vacancies arise in the future.

Jacqueline Oughton, managing director at Ixion Holdings, says: “We are delighted to have been able to support Banks Mining with this hugely-important legacy project.

“We have supported local people in gaining essential skills in the construction sector which will help them move towards and into work, and will be working with every one of them to help them find roles in their chosen occupation, while the legacy that this work leaves is essential to driving future skills development.

The training facilities that have been created are essential to the local community and also to the training the Plant Operations and Maintenance staff of the future, providing a career pathway that will enable them to progress.

“Giving people of all ages the chance to visit plant and training premises such as this helps instil a real feeling of what STEM actually looks like in a workplace situation, and can also help encouraging them to develop their curiosity about future career paths in this essential area.

“I am very proud of the partnership work our trainees, Ixion and Banks staff have achieved together and look forward to see this facility growing from strength to strength.”

The Banks Group has made a range of significant investments in staff training and development over recent years, including the appointment of a full-time trainer and the creation of a modular training programme which provides a framework for skills and career development opportunities for over 200 operational employees.

Keith Tarn, group human resources manager at The Banks Group, adds: “We’re continuing to invest in creating and sustaining skilled jobs right through our different divisions, and had identified a particular issue regarding the training opportunities available within the wider heavy plant mechanic sector which are essential to our operations.

“With fewer providers offering students the chance to develop the skills we require and the average age of the available workforce creeping ever upwards, we realised that we have to take our own steps to ensure we have the right sorts of skills in our team.

“The facility we’ve created will help recruits move from being novices through to being skilled mechanics who can take on specialised roles as their careers develop, and will also help us drive the sort of continuous improvement and process modernisation that keeps us moving forward as a business.

“Our surface mine sites provide an environment in which our teams develop skills and knowledge they can use right through their working lives, and the training investments we make both there and right across the business help ensure we stay at the forefront of our industries.

“The Ixion team has done an excellent job in helping us create this new facility, and we hope that the experience they’ve gained will help each of them move into permanent employment in the near future.”