For decades, Radley Engineering – one of Europe’s leading specialists in the design, manufacture, fabrication and site installation of high-quality steel solutions – has been running an industry-leading apprenticeship programme. Building Ireland dropped into their Dungarvan factory and met Operations Manager Greg Conaty to find out more.
From its state-of-the-art County Waterford base, Radley Engineering provides exceptional steel fabrication and welding solutions nationally and internationally to a range of industries, including Manufacturing, Mechanical, Oil and Gas, Biopharma, Power Generation, Food Processing and Consumables.
The company has grown steadily since it was founded by brothers John and Thomas Radley in 1972, today generating employment for 440 highly-skilled personnel, many of whom have come through Radley’s magnificent in-house apprenticeship programme, which has been overseen for 37 years by Operations Manager Greg Conaty.
Between six and ten apprentices enter the four-year programme each year – a great legacy for Greg and the company as a whole… “The company has always prioritised taking on apprentices and bringing them through the system,” he points out. “When I started here in 1982, we had 17 apprentices on our books at the time and we’ve taken on more every year since then. At the moment, we have 40 apprentices coming through the various stages of their development.”
Although Radley Engineering has invested robustly in its systems to cater for a wider range of specialist needs (a Class 10 cleanroom facility was added in 2010 followed by the extension of the carbon steel fabrication workshop six years later), the real key to the world-class services provided is its people – from the highly-skilled management team of project managers and engineers, to specialist craftsmen and, of course, apprentices.
“Our apprenticeship programme keeps people in Ireland and gives them both skills and an income,” Greg continues. “We realised from an early stage that we had to develop our own people with a particular skillset. The only way we would be able to carry out the specialist work that we do is to train them here ourselves. It’s essential to have that steady flow of talent coming through the system while, at the same time, the skills we give them would allow them to walk straight into work anywhere in the world if they decided to go travelling.”
The contribution Radley’s apprenticeship programme has made to the local economy over the years has been invaluable. “Most of them are local lads, from the Waterford / Clonmel area, and also from Cork, Kilkenny, etc.,” says Greg. “The apprenticeship is broken down into seven phases and four of them are done here in the company with the other three off-the-job in various institutes.”
Responsible for organising all employment within the company, the Operations Manager is the man who effectively takes the apprentices through the programme from first point of contact to qualification. “I meet them first of all to check out their suitability for the course because, in recent years, apprenticeship requirements have changed and there’s a lot more required from an apprentice now than there was ten, or even five years ago.
“They’d come in at various different levels. Generally, aged 17-18 is the ideal age after they’ve finished their Leaving Cert and achieved a good result in that. Many of them would know of us through friends or family who work here, while some others would have worked here as transition-year students, which provided them with an opportunity to see if they are suitable for this type of work environment. They might come back for the summer and, if they do well in their exams and are interested, we’ll welcome them into the programme.
“Some others might have served their time in other trades and then come in to train as fabricators. At present, a lot of them are in the new Pipe Fabrication apprenticeship, which is in its third year and is our main line of work.”
The net result of the prolific programme is that every year the excellent Radley Engineering team is enhanced by the addition of fresh blood in the form of skilled and trained pipe fitters, metal fabricators, mechanical fitters and plumbers. “There are actually some people here today who were serving their apprenticeships when I joined,” Greg reveals. “Most of the people in the factory have served their apprenticeships here and either stayed on continuously or came back to us.”
In addition to on-site fitters and installers, management and engineers are joined by up to 120 fabricators, welders and fitters at the Dungarvan factory, where all the vessels and pipes are manufactured. Radley is the industry leader in computerised vessel design and modelling using both 2D and 3D applications.
As well as serving the oil, gas and pharma industries (the first project for Pfizer was awarded in 1976, while Radley was awarded the Subsea Riser Contract with Cameron for clients BP, Total, Statoil & Nabor Oil in 2015), the company also provides stunning architectural metalwork services and has been involved in a number of high-profile projects over the years, including The Spire of Dublin, The Heron Tower in the heart of London and the Waterford City Suir Cable Stay Bridge – a clear indication of the flexibility and design capabilities of the workforce.
From mechanical piping and vessel fabrication to modular construction, architectural metalwork and specialist fabrications, Radley Engineering’s success is a result of their dedication to consistently delivering high-quality work and creating value for customers by transforming ideas and inventions into innovations, culminating in long-term, trusting relationships with clients and a high volume of repeat business.
At the time of writing, Radley Engineering was active on projects for Ely Lily, Merck and Cameron, to mention just a few. The company has enjoyed steady, organic growth down through the years, even coming through the recession relatively unscathed. “We weren’t affected too much by the recession,” Greg confirms. “The pharma companies all continued to develop new products and build new plants. Radley would be firmly established as the engineering company that they use for their installations.”
Nurtured by the fruits of a prestigious apprenticeship programme, the industry-leading company is perfectly poised to continue reaching new heights. “Our goal is to keep quality men coming through,” Greg notes. “We’ll keep conducting interviews looking for young people who have the suitability and capability of becoming fabricators who can work to the high standards expected from all those who work for us.
“We’ve experienced labour shortages in the past but, due to the strong apprentice programmes that ourselves and others instigated in the early 2000s for that very reason, that’s no longer a problem. We’ve really upped our apprenticeship intake. I used to take in a couple a year but we now have 6-10 starting every year. Five lads qualified in October and we’ll have the same again when Solas arranges the next graduation ceremony.”
The stellar work done by Radley Engineering in developing apprentices and offering them careers is on a par with the outstanding steel design, manufacture, fabrication and installation services provided to clients island-wide and beyond.
Tel: 058 41199
Fax: 058 42169
Taken from Building Ireland Magazine, March/April, Vol 5 No 3