Vincent Bruen | CJK Engineering

CJK Engineering’s people are the driving force behind the company and critical to its continued success, making training and empowering staff central to its innovation-based culture.

Ranked 50th in the Sunday Independent/Statista list of Ireland’s 150 Best Employers in May, CJK Engineering’s continued investment in its people went up a gear in 2021 with the launch of its new Training & Development Centre. This is a dedicated centre of excellence for CJK apprentices, comprising state-of-the-art, fully equipped training rooms and workshop training facilities.

“In their first week, all of our apprentices receive training on health and safety, the correct use of hand and power tools and learn about the materials that they will be using in their trade. They also carry out several tasks similar to what would be expected of them onsite. This gives them the chance to learn in a dedicated training environment before going onsite. After spending several months onsite, they return to the centre to be assessed on how they’re progressing,” says CJK Managing Director Vincent Bruen, who has been with the company ten years.

“Some apprentices may not have had the opportunity to learn some of the skills of the trade. Our training manager makes sure they are shown these skills on return to the training centre. Electrical work is constantly changing and evolving. We use our training centre to allow our apprentices and staff to be kept aware of new techniques to improve the way electrical works are completed.”

Founded by Conor Kearney in 1998, CJK is primarily an electrical contractor operating in the commercial, pharmaceutical, industrial, public sector, education and healthcare sectors. The company has grown steadily over the past decade to a current staff level of 200 people. This includes over 80 apprentices and 20 staff who are currently in higher-level education, ranging from project management courses to masters in quantity surveying and MBAs.

“We make a point of listening to staff working in the field on how we can do things better. Having experienced people who can spot gaps and deal with problems is crucial. Training is a big focus as it is critical to achieving efficiencies onsite and in the office,” notes Bruen. “We are a business that is constantly evolving and striving to do better through knowledge acquisition and experience. We are firm believers in continuous learning and encourage and support our team to follow their passion and further their education.”

Working with CJK is not a job, but a career opportunity, he continues: “CJK is probably the largest employer of electrical apprentices in Ireland based on the turnover of the company – we try to take on 30 new apprentices each year and we aim to continue to grow that base.

“The routes out of an electrical apprenticeship are as diverse as any college course. Practically all of our senior management team started out as electrical apprentices. We have former apprentices currently working in our commercial, engineering and management teams.”

Diversified approach

In 2019, CJK decided to diversify into some new sectors, including industrial, healthcare, pharma and, most recently, data centres. This has definitely proved to be a worthwhile strategy, particularly in light of what has happened with COVID-19, according to Bruen.

“A number of our projects were deemed essential during both COVID-19 lockdowns, which allowed CJK to relocate our staff away from projects which had to close completely during the lockdowns. Keeping our staff in full employment through the recent lockdown has enabled us to react and target new works now that the construction market is fully open.”

One of the projects that continued was the Upgrade of the Baggage Handling Systems in Ireland’s Airports. Having worked with the three major baggage handling systems providers worldwide – Siemens, Daifuku Logan and Vanderlande – CJK has carved out a specialist niche in upgrading baggage handling systems and has worked on projects in London, Glasgow and Manchester airports.

A number of prestigious projects have started back up for CJK since the latest lockdown. These include projects for Fidelity, 3M, Pfizer, MSD, Amgen, Accenture and Amazon, to name a few.

“Around 90% of our business is generated through repeat clients and developing good relationships. We like to work collaboratively with clients, addressing problems with them and making sure projects are completed successfully,” says Bruen.

“CJK have always had a focus on frameworks, which means we have a good pipeline of future works.” CJK is currently part of a framework with the Office of Public Works, the Department of Education, University College Dublin, Dublin Airport, Trinity College Dublin, Takeda and Amgen.

Cutting-edge software

CJK is an innovative company, having invested in leading-edge maintenance and construction software in recent years to provide a lean and more efficient service to its clients. Over the past number of years, it has started to provide site staff with mobile tablets to access drawings and site information, which has improved communication onsite.

“Our QEHS goal at the start of 2020 was to implement a paperless EHS management system. This facilitates remote documentation and regulatory compliance audits, instant notifications, and more beneficial use of our safety officers’ time on site,” says Bruen.

“Our built-in individual sign-off functionality ensures full traceability of records  and  fosters a culture  of  accountability among our teams. The digital automation of our record system has seen a reduction in waste, a streamlined administration process at site level and real-time reporting capabilities.”

He adds: “We started to look at ways to be more environmentally friendly a number of years ago. One measure was for our contract managers to change to electric vehicles (EVs) in 2019. This has turned out to be so successful and efficient that we plan on upgrading and extending our EV fleet next year.”

Staff involvement

In keeping with CJK’s emphasis on listening to its people, it introduced the Site Improvement Initiative Programme in the past six months. This allows all staff to use their experience, expertise and creativity for improving the way CJK is run. The key areas for improvement have been safety, productivity, mental health, pride in your work and more opportunities to use social media to showcase CJK. The management team has received in excess of 100 unique and constructive suggestions to date and given prizes for those that have been implemented.

“We are always conscious of mental health and the wellbeing of our workforce. This year we engaged with the Lighthouse Club, a charity which provides financial and emotional support to construction workers and their families. All of our management team have completed mental health workshops to assist them in helping anybody who is struggling,” says Bruen.

“We try to include staff in everything we do to maintain good mental health and increase morale. In recent weeks, 57 of us did the ‘Dip at Dawn’ at Clontarf Baths in Dublin to raise money for our charity partner, Coolmine Therapeutic Community, and also Women’s Aid.

“We also run an ‘Operation Transformation’ challenge between sites, where CJK donates €10 to a chosen charity for every pound lost by each employee over a two-month period. Next September, we are introducing a new initiative where the best eight apprentices of the year chosen by sector managers will be rewarded with a night away and a team building adventure in County Clare. Apprentices are the foundation of our future success and we want to ensure that the best ones are rewarded.”