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Home HS2 HS2: Apprentices, organisations and leaders recognised in Parliament at prestigious awards ceremony

HS2: Apprentices, organisations and leaders recognised in Parliament at prestigious awards ceremony

Two rising stars in rail have been named HS2 Apprentices of the Year at an awards ceremony in Parliament which also recognised the efforts of contractors and their senior staff.

25-year-old Divine Makondele and 21-year-old Sam Arrowsmith were the worthy winners of the apprenticeship accolades. Divine was the overall winner in the Apprentice of the Year Level 3 and under category, and Sam was the overall winner in the Apprentice of the Year Level 4 and above category.

Davine grew up surrounded by the buzz of construction works, in readiness for the London 2012 Olympics. This inspired Divine to pursue a career working on major infrastructure projects, and she never let get of her dream.

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Her drive to succeed led her to Newham College, where she enrolled on a Construction and Built Environment course, and from there, she seized the opportunity to join HS2’s construction partner, Align JV, on work experience.

In September 2021, Divine’s dreams turned to reality. She beat off stiff competition to secure a Level 2 Tunnelling Operative apprenticeship with TG Tunnelling, a tier two contractor working on behalf of Align JV. Just ten months later, Divine is part of the team working around the clock to operate the giant tunnel boring machines, Florence and Cecilia, that are excavating ten miles of tunnels beneath the Chiltern hills.

On presenting Divine with her award, HS2 Minister, Andrew Stephenson MP said: “It’s an honour to be here today, as HS2 Minister, to celebrate the the extraordinary achievements of those dedicated to bringing this landmark project to life. Divine has an outstanding career ahead of her and I hope more young people will feel inspired to follow in her footsteps and play their part in this transformational project.”

Divine has been hailed as an “inspiration” by her colleague, Darren Beard, a Segment Crane Operator at TG Tunnelling. 

Darren said: “Of all the apprentices I have been helping to train, Divine really stands out. The tunnelling industry is historically male dominated, but that doesn’t faze her in the slightest.

 “To see this young woman get stuck in to every challenge and task she’s set really is something special – to the point where I have to hide a little tear of joy. Playing a tiny part in the wonderful career she’s building makes me very proud.”

Divine was one of two apprentices hailed for their outstanding contribution at today’s Inspiration Awards, which recognise the outstanding achievements of individuals and organisations supporting the construction of Britain’s new railway. Divine was the overall winner in the Apprentice of the Year Level 3 and under category, which celebrates the achievements of those starting out in their career on HS2.

HS2 Apprentice of the Year award winner, Divine Makondele said: “I’m so thankful to everyone that has believed in me and supported me. For me, infrastructure is everything, it’s what builds society, and it doesn’t get any bigger than HS2. This is such an amazing project and I want to see it right through to the end – to when those first trains run. I want to look back and tell my family and friends, and hopefully my kids, I was part of the team that built this. And I hope that more young women will be joining me too”

Sam Arrowsmith

Sam joined HS2, the company building Britain’s new zero carbon railway, in September 2020 and his ‘enthusiasm and constant pursuit of excellence’ led to him being recognised as a rising star on the project by HS2 Minister, Andrew Stephenson.

Sam began his Level 4 Associate Project Management apprenticeship at the height of the Covid pandemic, a difficult time for a young person to be starting out in their career, but he didn’t let that faze him and instead relished the opportunities it presented.

With major construction projects given the green light to continue during lockdown restrictions, Sam seized the opportunity to play a leading role in HS2’s ‘Back to Better’ group, which implemented measures to ensure the thousands of people supporting HS2’s construction remained safe. He has since worked alongside senior leaders and HS2’s construction partners, to write a Learning Legacy paper, sharing details of the good practice measures that were put in place, so that major infrastructure projects of the future can benefit from the lessons learned.

Sam’s dedication to the ‘Back to Better’ project didn’t detract from his day to day role in project management, so much so that he completed his two-year apprenticeship six months early and achieved the highest pass rate – 89% – amongst his fellow 2020 cohort.

On presenting Sam with the Apprentice of the Year award, HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson said: It’s an honour to be here today, as HS2 Minister, to celebrate the the extraordinary achievements of those dedicated to bringing this landmark project to life. Sam has achieved a huge amount in his short career. With his passion and enthusiasm he’ll go far, and I’m confident he’ll inspire others to step forward and play a part in this transformational project.”

Achieving excellence outside of his day-to-day role remains a constant driver for Sam, who also spends time volunteering with HS2’s education team. Eager to inspire the next generation to consider a career in construction and rail engineering, Sam has returned to his own sixth form college (name) and secondary school (name) where he hopes to inspire others to consider an apprenticeship on HS2.

On receiving his award from the HS2 Minister, Sam said: “It’s a real honour to be recognised today and I’m so proud to have won this award. The last two years have flown by and now that I’ve finished my apprenticeship, I can’t wait to get started in my new role as assistant project manager. HS2 has really opened doors for me and I’m so proud to be part of the team that is building HS2 in my home county of Warwickshire.”

Other awards

The two apprentices were awarded alongside major contractors and their staff.

Community Impact award

Three projects, designed to improve outcomes for those who live near to HS2’s construction sites, were shortlisted for the community impact award, with the public voting for the overall winner – Costain Skanska joint venture (CSjv). CSjv saw first-hand the devastating effect of rough sleeping in Euston and eager to help, they formed partnerships to help rehouse, reskill and create pathways to support people into employment. The team worked with local charity St Mungo’s to provide temporary accommodation and established the first ever floating homeless hub, based on a construction site, by transforming an empty building into a shelter with beds, wrap around care, food, toiletries and 24 hour security. A new partnership with Buses 4 Homeless (B4H) who refurbish decommissioned London buses and turn them into spaces for eating, sleeping, cooking and learning, led to a three-month pilot at a HS2 site in Acton, where people were housed and supported. Seven of the guests went on to secure full time employment, including four who secured jobs working on HS2. The team’s support for the local homeless community continues today.

Skills Legacy award

HS2’s construction partner, Balfour Beatty VINCI (BBV) scooped the award for the establishment of their Birmingham Skills Academy, which upskills local people ready for employment on HS2 in just 4-6 weeks. BBV’s Skills and Employment team were applauded for the role they have played in bringing together local partners, securing funding and changing the lives of those who have been out of work for an extended period by supporting them into meaningful careers on HS2.

STEM Contribution award

HS2’s construction partner, Align, received the award for the innovative and original nature of its schools programme, which enables pupils with special educational needs to gain real life experience of working in construction. Align places a strong focus on supporting pupils with disabilities and has developed a close working relationship with the Meadow School in Hillingdon. The judges praised the team behind the project for pushing boundaries and striving to encourage more people with a disability into the sector.

Inclusive Leaders award

Katherine Grigg, a Construction Manager with HS2’s construction partner Skanska Constrain STRABAG was awarded for her outstanding contribution to inspiring inclusivity. Nominated by her fellow colleagues, Katherine was recognised for the steps she has taken to build a diverse pipeline of talent, ensuring that the unique needs of women and BAME employees are accommodated on site. She was recognised as a person who is striving to inspire change and take the industry forward.

Minority-owned Business Champion award

SCS Railways was recognised for the role it is playing to build a supply chain that reflects the communities in which they operate. To date, the company has awarded contracts totalling £135m to minority owned businesses in their local area and has placed a strong focus on ensuring small firms have every opportunity to thrive by providing access to free training and business development opportunities.

Modern Slavery Prevention award

The judges praised VGC Group for their comprehensive and robust approach to addressing the dangers of modern slavery. Chief Operating Officer, Ciara Pryce, has been named one of the top 100 Modern Slavery influencers and the judges felt it was clear from the practices put in place that she is leading the way on this important agenda to tackle hidden labour exploitation. 

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