A Norfolk engineering firm is looking to the next generation as it takes on new apprentices and launches a division aimed at tapping into the rising demand for greener construction.

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DGT Structures, which is based at Lenwade, near Norwich, has launched OSEC (Offsite Engineering Cassettes) which it believes will streamline construction projects as flooring systems can be made off site beforehand.

The firm which has seen turnover rise from £13m to £21m since 1998, employs 128 staff including about 70 welders, and it believes the project will appeal particularly to housebuilders looking to cut costs and comply with stringent environmental targets on new homes.

The firm also specialises in designing and manufacturing petrol station forecourt canopies and shops, and earlier in the year its High Cross division won a multi-million deal to make and fit the steelwork structure and cladding for 50 Starbucks outlets in the north of England and Scotland.

More recently it has won work to refurbish petrol forecourts in Malta and is hopeful of securing a similar deal in Libya.

Duncan McLennan, operations manager at the firm, said while it had been tough times for the construction industry, the company was keen to grow and secure new opportunities for the business, and the new division was part of a plan to become a £30m a year business.

He said this diversity had helped the business buck the trend affecting the construction sector in recent years.

“OSEC is an exciting initiative for us and the design and technology we use can be applied to shops and a range of commercial building,” he said. “It’s still difficult, but we are maintaining the levels. We have got 70 guys out the back of the factory we need to keep fully employed. We are just ready to go to market with this. We’ve put a toe in the water and there has already been some interest. The business gets involved in construction in most sectors, and it’s not just steel frames we manufacture, but also the cladding framework.”

He said OSEC had already impressed judges at a recent Build Norfolk and Best East Norfolk Green Dragon’s Den competition.

“It’s a quicker method of construction and it’s a greener method and we are now ready to go,” he said. “It can be difficult for industry to change the way it works, but there is a lot more pressure to be greener nowadays.”

Meanwhile the firm has also teamed up with Norwich-based specialist training provider EAGIT to take on and train three new teenage apprentices.

“All industry is feeling the pinch and construction is no different, but there is also a need to maintain skill levels,” Mr McLennan added. “The reason we have gone down that road is so that we can get these skills in house. Our managing director served as an apprentice and is a great believer in them.”

Ethan Harris, 17, said he was already enjoying the apprentice role.

“It’s better than school because it’s more hands on and you are learning new skills,” the former Northgate High School pupil said.

Adam Rhodes, 17, from Wymondham who became an apprentice after completing a bodywork spraying course at City College Norwich, said: “We have one day a week at EAGIT. I didn’t know if I would get on with people but they are all very easy to get along with.”

Daniel Sewell, 17, from Old Costessey, near Norwich, said he enjoyed the combination of the course and the hands-on experience of welding on the factory floor.

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