A Durham-based construction group is encouraging regional businesses to back armed forces veterans.

North of England contractor Esh Construction became a Gold Covenant holder of the  Armed Forces Employer Recognition Scheme in July 2023, having previously held the ERS silver award since 2021

The firm is driving forward its commitment to supporting ex-military personnel through a variety of initiatives including its bespoke ‘Soldiers to Site’ programme, a tailored support package for employed reservists and its work with local charities and community groups.

To celebrate the recent Armed Forces Week, two Esh employees have pledged their commitment to the cause by joining the Army Reserves following an Army Business Challenge event at Albemarle Barracks in Newcastle.

Several Esh employees undertook the Army Business Challenge Day to enhance their problem-solving, team-building, leadership skills and mental resilience while learning about opportunities in the Army Reserves.

Being partnered with staff from Nexus, Esh’s team was crowned winners on the day and afterwards trainee quantity surveyor Curtis Layfield, and trainee assistant site manager Dominic Burns were inspired to sign up as reservists.

Mr Layfield said: “I used the challenge to learn new skills and test myself in a new environment. It taught me about the possibilities as a reservist, which was extremely insightful. I decided to sign up as it allows me to enhance various skills like communication and discipline and I’m thankful that Esh has supported my decision.”

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Mr Burns added: “I knew a lot of people within the reserves who ran the business day challenge and being able to talk to them as friends and get a good idea of what the reserves actually do was really enjoyable. The challenge showed me how becoming a reserve could further my experience in life and give me vital life skills no other job could offer.”

In 2023, Esh launched a ‘Soldiers to Site’ transitioning programme with the Careers Transition Partnership (CTP) which sees service leavers encounter live construction sites or office-based roles for up to five days to gauge the right career path opportunities. It also offers trade/role specific training for an additional five days for participants to experience their current military trade in a civilian environment.

“As a Gold Covenant holder, Esh is committed to setting an example for our industry, not only in supporting ex-services personnel but to also help our industry thrive,” said HR Director Chris Watson.

“We’re undergoing a skills shortage in construction, so working with the CTP, we support people leaving military positions to pair them up with employment opportunities in areas they have experience or interest.

Simon Schofield, Chris Watson and Kate MarshallSimon Schofield, Chris Watson and Kate Marshall (Image: Esh)

“The programme is built around providing service leavers with access to positive destinations, whether that is working directly with Esh Group or through its supply chain, other construction firms or even another sector utilising skills and qualifications gained on the programme.”

Among Esh’s ranks are employees from a range of military backgrounds. As a Royal Marine Reserve, Simon Schofield works as a technical manager for Esh’s affordable housing division.

Passing the Commando course in May 2005, he is closing in on 20 years of service as a reservist, deploying to Norway – where he conducted cold weather warfare – as well as a stint in Afghanistan with 40 Commandos in 2010, leading a section of Marines and attached ranks on operations in Sagin in the Helmand province.

Mr Schofield said: “Esh’s commitment to the Armed Forces Gold Covenant has enabled me to fulfil my reservist duties without a financial hit or loss of holiday thanks to the 10-days paid additional leave that reservists receive as part of their employment package.

“You learn management and leadership techniques in an environment that’s far removed from any office under induced stress and zero sleep conditions. Military training sets a default standard both personally and professionally and you build upwards from there in your work and life.”

The firm also works in partnership with veterans’ charity, Launchpad, on a number of initiatives, including funding the creation of a sensory garden at the charity’s County Durham house, sponsoring the ‘Combatting Veterans’ Homelessness’ dinner, delivering employability sessions as well as arranging volunteer hikes for veterans.