“We are the biggest UK New Build electrical contractors. That’s enabled us to expand properly. We have apprentices coming through all the time and we can offer them deployment around our offices.”
One of the UK’s most successful electrical contractors, Clarkson Evans is hard-wired for talent.
By Nicky Godding
If you want to see how an apprenticeship programme should work, check out Clarkson Evans. One of the UK’s largest and most successful electrical contractors, it was born and bred in Gloucester and has around 200 apprentice electricians on its books at any one time.
An impressive (and 21st-century) fact about Clarkson Evans is that, unlike many contractors, everyone is an employee. There are no sub-contractors, or zero hour contracts. This business has a traditional attitude to its employees.
Yes, the business expects a lot from them, but in return, staff conditions are good, company socials are frequent, well-funded, and (I hear) well fun.
This £50 million turnover company, which employs 900 people, 550 of which are electricians, will have wired 20,000 of the nation’s new homes this year alone.
However, it’s still a family business, and since the beginning of last year, it’s been headed up by Managing Director Nathan Evans, son of founder Steve Evans.
Steve stepped down from the day-to-day running of the business at the beginning of 2016, but continues as Chairman (he’s not quite ready to fully take his hand off the tiller of the business he built).
Clarkson Evans wires new homes, not existing ones, and there is a big UK market for New Build. That’s what the company’s really good at – everything and everyone in the company is geared up to meet that goal.
The number of new homes being built in England is over 20% higher than a year ago, and the Government says it’s determined to support housebuilding. This ambition is supported by recent announcements, including the intention to speed up delivery of over 155,000 new homes in nine locally-led garden town developments, from Bicester to Taunton, and supporting a new generation of council house building.
Whether the Government meets its target of delivering one million homes by the end of 2020, and a further half a million more by the end of 2022, is yet to be determined, but whatever the final figures, there’s plenty for Clarkson Evans’ 550 electricians to be getting on with.
Steve Evans started the business 36 years ago. He quickly began taking on apprentices to help him wire up new homes for housebuilders such as Bovis and JJ Homes. One of those apprentices was Steve Clarkson, and Clarkson Evans was born.
Nathan takes up the story: “Dad saw a niche in the market to wire up new homes and he soon began working for all the main housebuilders. We opened branches in Trowbridge, Birmingham and Wales – which remain some of our strongest regional branches today.” Clarkson Evans now has 17 regional branches, from Plymouth to Telford. A talent for people
Nathan joined the business as an apprentice when he was about 20, but there was no hint of nepotism – he had to earn his stripes as an electrician before his dad began to consider him as potential management material.
It wasn’t a given that he’d go into the business at all. “I wanted to be a professional rugby player – I played semi-professionally for years, for teams such as Lydney and Cinderford, but never quite achieved the top rank.”
Finally joining the family business in the early nineties, Nathan qualified as an electrician and did his time on the tools before stepping up to management. It was when he moved into that role that Nathan discovered his talent for people. “I thank my dad for this, he saw I was good at connecting with customers.”
But he doesn’t regret his time spent at the sharp end of the business. “Working on the tools gave me confidence and, I hope, credibility with those I worked alongside.” Nathan isn’t alone in his progression from apprentice to management. “We have a big culture of promoting and developing from within. It’s been a massive key to our success.”
He was made managing director at the beginning of 2016, moving from his previous roles as production director and then business development director. Switched on business
Clarkson Evans is expanding. “The last branch we opened was in Milton Keynes, and we’ve had to move our Oxford branch to bigger premises,” explains Nathan.
“We are also opening a branch in Nottingham – of all the areas it’s the biggest for potential new business.”
When I learn that the company’s Gloucester branch represents 20% of Clarkson Evans’ business, and Birmingham is 12% of business, it’s clear how much potential the company still has to grow nationally.
And with building industry standards rising all the time, the demand for the experience and knowledge of Clarkson Evans is likely to increase.
“The market is there, and we are providing innovative processes to enable our electricians to work more efficiently and effectively.
“And we are always reinvesting in our business.”
Would Clarkson Evans expand out of the new build market? Never say never, according to Nathan. “We’ve certainly talked about entering other areas, and we may do it in the future. But at the moment we want to do what we do well, and do more of it.” Making the most of a recession
Aiming to buck the national trend after the 2008 recession, Clarkson Evans went on a big expansion drive. “We took the long view that the country wouldn’t be in a recession forever,” explains Nathan. “Common sense told us that if you can ride out the storm and develop the business strategically, we’d be well placed when the time came.”
And they did. By the time the construction sector started growing again, Clarkson Evans had branches set up, managers in them, electricians ready to go and was ready to capitalise on the opportunities.
However, the building industry is a competitive business, as any contractor will testify. Clarkson Evans is big, and it has to work smart if it’s to compete with others. “We are perceived by some builders as the ‘Marks & Spencers’ of the electrical contracting world,” says Nathan. “And yes, we do have plenty of technical and administrative backup to make our work run smoothly. But some will say that whoever signs the certificate of safety when a house is wired, that’s the job done. It’s NIC registered, whoever’s done the work.
“So we make sure we remain competitive, and are known for being a company that always delivers. Dad and I are both passionate about that. He installed that in me right from the start. We don’t let our customers down. It’s a huge thing.” TRAIN TO GAIN
- Clarkson Evans established its training centre at the end of the 1990s.
- Why bother training your own apprentices when local colleges are set up to do that?
- “We employed a lot of apprentices, and back then we found colleges could only provide the necessary block release training at our busiest time of year,” says Nathan. “We just couldn’t afford to lose so many electricians for two weeks, so dad made the decision to establish our own in-house training.”
- It was a smart move, and Clarkson Evans is unique within the industry in making such substantial and ongoing investment in its pipeline of talent.
- “We are the biggest New Build electrical contractors doing this in the UK,” says Nathan. “That’s enabled us to expand properly. We have apprentices coming through all the time and we can offer them deployment around our offices.”
- Clarkson Evans is now rolling out its training culture across the company. “We’re also taking on trainee accountants and apprentice project coordinators, and using local FE colleges for the training provision.”
Four facts on Nathan Jones
- He might have hung up his rugby boots, but Nathan’s a big supporter of Gloucester, and other local teams
- He’s up early to work out at Trimnasium in Cheltenham
- He prefers to be out meeting customers, than behind his desk
- A keen golfer, he plays off 18 (on a good day)