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It’s time for another insight into one of fabulous employer partners! Here, in our latest guest Q&A, we find out more about Chris Saunders from employer partner, ENGIE who have played a major part in the UTC’s development so far.

chris saunders

Tell us a little about your company?

ENGIE are probably the biggest company you have never heard of. We are a global organisation with a major share of the regeneration (construction), energy and services markets here in the UK.

We are a housebuilder, a refurbishment specialist, an energy provider, an energy generator and a services specialist. We are also one of the globe’s foremost trendsetters with research and development centres across the world and a catalogue of successful innovation projects to hand.

Despite our global reach and broad capabilities, we are locally focused. This is evidenced by 80% of our work in the UK being delivered in partnership with the public sector. Using Doncaster as the example, we have worked (and continue to do so) with public sector organisations such as Doncaster Council (local authority), St Leger Homes (arms-length management organisation) and ONGO (housing association).

We serve the public sector and deliver projects which provide more housing for those in most need, target a reduction in fuel poverty and maximise local assets to reduce cost and climate impact.

How did you get to your position as strategic regeneration manager?

I currently hold the position of strategic regeneration manager at ENGIE Places and Communities (predominantly working within the regeneration side of the business). This means that I am responsible for engaging key clients and local stakeholders and identifying partnership opportunities which make a real difference to the local community. This is a unique role within ENGIE.

My route towards strategic regeneration was a simple one. I started out at ENGIE as a graduate bid co-ordinator in the West Midlands. The role was centred around the completion of tender documents for local authority contracts.  I got my head down and threw myself into my work.

Within a year I was promoted to bid writer. This meant I was given full control of stage one tenders (typically two stages with the latter being highly competitive). After two years honing my skills, I was promoted to bid manager at the age of 25. This meant that I would be responsible for Stage 2 submissions which involved pricing and producing bespoke content which would secure the contract for our organisation.

As time passed I was ring-fenced for Major Bids due to my track record. We had some major successes during this period winning a number of high-profile bids.

In 2018, the Regeneration business underwent a structural change. We setup the Strategic Regeneration division to generate more growth through the wide-ranging ENGIE UK offer.  I was asked by the strategic regeneration director if I would like an opportunity to join this exciting new venture. I naturally said yes. Since then, the team has been working hard to secure new partnerships with key clients (and broaden existing relationships) and we have just taken on our first apprentice – from Doncaster (Bessacarr). Onwards and upwards hopefully.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Discussing the wants and needs of a key client and realising that the group’s broad capabilities (with a high-quality output) can contribute to a successful solution. That is true partnership working and something no other company out there can offer.

Did you always want to have a career in regeneration/construction?

I did, but I just didn’t know it.

As a child I was always very sport focused. If I didn’t make it as a footballer or golfer, I didn’t really know where my life would go. However, in my spare time away from sport, I used to build football stadiums out of Lego and create golf course designs on my Windows 98 powered computer games.

So, the inclination was there, but I didn’t have the understanding of how to apply these skills to a career.

What education route did you take?

Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to go to a fantastic facility like the Doncaster UTC. I would have loved to attend an institute where you were educated towards a specific career. I have no doubt in my mind that I would have undertaken the construction curriculum.

In terms of my actual education, I attended high school (very American) where I completed years 7 – 11 and then went onto sixth form. On completion of sixth form I undertook a placement with a construction professional. I enjoyed it, so I went to University and studied for a BSc (Hons) in Construction Management. I completed my degree and so the journey began.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Physical education was the only subject where I truly excelled. Due to the lack of focus on careers at my school (it was never discussed), and the school curriculum being very generic, I was forced into subjects that I viewed as insignificant in later life. Hence why I see the UTC at Doncaster as an excellent opportunity for youngsters who display similar traits to myself.

Why do you feel there is the need for Doncaster UTC?

The key word for me is ‘focus’.

The UTC core subjects reflect modern society and provide young persons with an opportunity from the age of 13 to think about their future career. The focused curriculum will provide industry experts who are ready for the world of work at 18 years old.

I was still a naïve child at 18 without a definitive view of where I wanted to be in ten years. The students at the UTC must be focused and recognise how far ahead (career-wise) they will be in comparison to those taking a traditional route in education.

How do you think the UTC will benefit young people and business in this area?

The UTC will provide the following benefits for young people:

  • An excellent education based around career-focused learning
  • Opportunity to engage with like-minded young people 
  • Access to a current world curriculum set by industry experts from the locality 

The UTC will benefit local businesses in the following ways:

  • Work-ready young professionals entering their business
  • A better educated Doncaster means a more prosperous skills base
  • The UTC will support economic growth by educating and then employing highly-qualified and ambitious young persons

What advice do you have for young people who are interested in a STEM based career?

Take advantage of this opportunity.

If you have even the slightest interest in any of the core modules being offered by the UTC, pursue it. You have the chance to be work-ready, professional, industry aware and ultimately employable by the time you are 18. That is an incredible position to be in.

What are you looking for in your employees?

The most important thing for ENGIE when employing young people is enthusiasm, and a willingness to continue learning. The students at the UTC should be displaying these characteristics from a young age. By the time we come to recruit apprentices from the UTC (at 16 or 18 years old), students should have had a taste of our industry and want more.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself!

I am actually a local councillor. It’s not an interesting fact but one that seems to surprise a lot of people when I tell them.