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What Laing O’Rourke does

Engineering. Construction. Manufacturing. Creating buildings and infrastructure for clients across the globe – in the UK, Middle East, Canada, Southeast Asia and Australia. Their HQ is in Dartford, Kent with project sites throughout the UK.

‘We build with technical excellence from the foundations to the glazing’ – Senior Manager

Many people will have seen, visited, or used, a building or piece of infrastructure engineered and built by Laing O’Rourke. They create the buildings that shape our lives: the hospitals we’re born or treated in, the stations we use to get to the buildings we live and work in; the schools we are educated in; the malls we shop in; the sports stadia we cheer in…

Whether it’s the London 2012 Olympic Park, Bond Street tube station, the Francis Crick Institute, Heathrow Terminal 5, Manchester Town Hall, the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai or the Kwinana Power Station in Australia … this is just a fraction of Laing O’Rourke’s work. 

The innovative new cancer treatment building for Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Hospital in London is being engineered and constructed by Laing O’Rourke. From the window of the busy project office, Apprentices, School and College Leavers and managers alike point with pride at the Leadenhall (‘Cheesegrater’) building - another of their projects.

Who they are

Laing O’Rourke employs more than 10,000 people in Europe and around 15,000 across the world.  Their roles vary widely, including engineers, electricians, quantity surveyors, plumbers and project managers – even abseilers.   

‘What sums us up?’ said one senior manager. ‘Excellence in what we build and the people we employ. Responsibility – as a company and as individuals.  Enjoyment – it’s a hard job; you work long hours but you’re part of a motivated team.’

What makes them different?

Laing O’Rourke has a supportive culture. Employees are encouraged to aim high - and be adventurous.  So they don’t necessarily have to stay with the trade they trained in; if they want to, they can often move into other trades or sectors within the company or grow into a more senior role.

As well as its core construction and infrastructure businesses, Laing O’Rourke owns a range of specialist companies right across the supply chain, such as Expanded, Select, Crown House Technologies and Explore Manufacturing.  This means that Laing O’Rourke has the capabilities to deliver a project from start to finish – from demolition and groundworks, to complex mechanical and electrical installations, to operation and maintenance. They employ many of their own engineers and tradesmen, rather than subcontracting out to other companies (unless it’s for a specialist skill, such as lead-lining a radiotherapy treatment room in a hospital, for example), so there’s a huge variety of roles available across the company.

Career Development

Laing O’Rourke says it prioritises being a great place to work – providing both current and prospective employees with an equal opportunity to grow and develop. As one manager put it :

“As a company that recognises the value of great people, Laing O’Rourke believes that a diverse workforce is a successful workforce”.

It’s worth noting that 40% of Laing O’Rourke’s current management did not join the company as graduates, but initially started in a trade, such as plumbing or heating engineering.

Construction has traditionally been regarded as a male-dominated sector, a perception supported by statistics: in the UK construction industry as a whole, the percentage of female engineers and on-site workers is in single figures. Laing O’Rourke is determined to change that and works with local schools, colleges, universities and communities to demonstrate the variety of roles available and attract people who may not have otherwise considered a career in the industry.

What’s on Offer?


Those leaving school after GCSEs can work, study and earn as a Laing O’Rourke Apprentice. Whether aspiring to be an electrician or a building controls engineer, a plumber or a heating and ventilation engineer – to name but a few of the roles available – Apprentices work towards a Level 3 NVQ in their chosen trade.

The theory learnt at college one day per week is put straight into practice by working on site the rest of the week, supported by experienced tradespeople and construction professionals.

‘I went off maths at school because it was all theory – I couldn’t see why we were bothering to learn it. Now I see why’ – Apprentice

By the end of their four-year training, Apprentices will have gained a professional accreditation with skills that can be used in a variety of roles and have a guaranteed job to kick-start their career, whether that is to continue working in a trade or to move up the career ladder into a more supervisory role.

Degree Apprenticeships (School and College Leavers in LO'Rspeak)

For those doing ‘A’ levels, NVQ or an equivalent qualification, becoming a School and College Leaver at Laing O’Rourke means they can be sponsored to do a range of relevant degrees, such as civil engineering, quantity surveying, construction management or IT, while gaining invaluable on-site experience. Whether aiming to be a quantity surveyor or an engineer, being a School and College Leaver entails studying at university one day a week and working on site for the rest of the week.

‘You get the degree, you get the experience, you get a wage and the benefits that come with it and you get respect for doing what you’ve done’ – School and College Leaver

A few years down the line, just as those school leavers who went to university are wondering how to translate their Old Norse degree into getting a job so they can pay off their student loans, the Laing O’Rourke School and College Leavers have been earning while studying for their degree and have a guaranteed job in their chosen profession.

‘You aren’t treated as a trainee, making teas or whatever; you’re given quite significant responsibilities, you’re helped to reach your goals and targets’ – School and College Leaver

Pay and Benefits

Both Apprentices and School and College Leavers receive generous pay and benefits packages.  The exact package does vary, depending on their particular trade or specialisation, but Apprentices are paid a competitive hourly rate of pay while School and College Leavers receive a full-time salary and a benefits package, plus 100% of their university fees are paid for by Laing O’Rourke.

 ‘There’s a future for the youngsters: the starting salary is £15,000 pa and at age 23 my son will have a degree and five years’ work experience in the adult world’ – parent of a School and College Leaver

‘His expenses are paid for, he has a pension scheme and private health insurance.  He’s bought a car, so at weekends he drives off to hang out with some of his old mates at uni’ – parent of a School and College Leaver

What Laing O’Rourke is looking for

As one manager put it: ‘No-one builds a building by themselves.’ Having good negotiating skills and working well with others is a must. That isn’t just with direct colleagues; the team includes architects, clients and local residents.

‘Teamwork, innovation and delivery’ – Senior Manager

‘We want to see drive, enthusiasm, flexibility, work ethic, eagerness to learn’ – Manager

Even principally office-based roles, such as Quantity Surveyors, Procurement, Estimators and Digital Engineers have an on-site component, with everything that goes with working on a project site.

‘You have to have a voice when you’re on site’ – School and College Leaver

Project sites are small worlds of their own; for the sake of the project and everyone’s safety, it’s vital to speak up and have input, as well as knowing when to listen and learn from the experience of others in the team.

‘We’re looking for attitude and aptitude’ – Manager

Resilience is important as problems can and do crop up. It’s how they’re dealt with that counts, so tenacity and lateral thinking are pluses. Problems can range from materials being delivered late to something more unusual, such as a significant archaeological find. At Laing O’Rourke’s Guy’s and St. Thomas’s site, archaeologists discovered the remains of a Roman ship that could not be moved and lay deep in the mud precisely where the foundations of the new building needed to be.

All the Apprentices and School and College Leavers we spoke to commented on the responsibility they were given from the start. 

‘My son has matured very quickly because of who he’s spending his day with’ – parent of School and College Leaver

Other good traits are calmness, spatial awareness and alertness, which are essential on a busy site with heavy machinery, bulk materials and large components, such as pre-cast concrete cladding panels.

Those interested in going into engineering will need to have top grades in maths. In some other sectors, being numerate and applying common sense is more important than in-depth knowledge of quadratic equations.

‘We want our early talent to be motivated, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’ – Engineering Leader

Training and Development

Laing O’Rourke has made a big commitment to developing their talent, spending £18 million on the training, education and development of its employees in 2014/15.

‘This is a really development-focused organisation. Wherever you are in the company, you never finish learning’ - Senior Engineer

Whether an Apprentice or a School and College Leaver, trainees are supported throughout by their programme manager and are allocated a mentor to bounce ideas or concerns off.

‘I know I’ve got support if I struggle’ – School and College Leaver

Once with the company, there is some flexibility; an Apprentice might be training as an electrician only to realise they are more interested in plumbing.  Or perhaps having gained their NVQ in a trade as an Apprentice, they want to progress up the career ladder into management by taking a sponsored degree while continuing to work. As long as they have got the talent and determination, they will be rewarded with plenty of opportunities to progress.

Who doesn’t it suit?

This industry is not for those only want to work in a controlled, unvarying environment, where the temperature is set at 22° and the pot plants are dusted on Tuesdays.  Project sites can be exciting, productive places but they can also be challenging, fast-paced and exposed to the weather.  Similarly, circumstances can change on a project – be it delivery times or the discovery of Roman remains – requiring a flexible response from the team.

The hours can be long on site and all trainees need to find ways to fit their coursework into a busy working week.

‘Sometimes I have to cancel seeing my mates at the weekends because I know I have to catch up on my coursework’ - School and College Leaver

It’s good to be assertive but not to shout others down. Every project entails working with teams of people with varied skills and from different backgrounds.

The great majority of trainees, supported by the programme managers, finish their Apprenticeships or School and College Leaver successfully, but a few don’t make the grade. The company’s investment in their trainees is considerable and if they’re not up to it and aren’t prepared to put in the hours or commitment, they won’t remain on the course.

Finding out more

Many of the Laing O’Rourke Apprentices and School and College Leavers we spoke to said they decided to apply after talking to one of the team at a careers fair, a recruitment event or at one of the company’s open evenings, where potential applicants can meet current Apprentices, School and College Leavers and Graduates to find out what their working life is really like.

‘My son wanted to watch the West Ham match rather than go to Laing O’Rourke’s open evening. I dragged him along; but it was brilliant and he wouldn’t shut up about it after going’ – parent of a School and College Leaver.

Laing O’Rourke Website:


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