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Getting training right

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How a training programme and apprenticeship scheme are providing benefits for the next generation of workers

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Mentoring is an important part of Ian Williams’ training strategy

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Trainee surveyor programme

Learning the relevant skills

Aim: Provide training opportunities
Result: Skilled employees who understand business

Paying lip service to training and apprenticeships isn’t good enough, says Siân Pearce, training and development manager at Ian Williams. If the skills gap is to be addressed, organisations need to weave training and staff retention into their DNA.

“All the large companies I have worked for have said people are their greatest asset, but training was the first thing that got chopped,” says Ms Pearce. “Here [at Ian Williams], I have never had to convince anybody that we need training. It is the way it is – it’s absolutely part of the culture here.”

And that starts with bringing in the right people. “We are looking for potential, for drive and ambition, in the apprentices and trainees we recruit,” she says. “For people who have what it takes to become a great carpenter, a great plumber or a great surveyor. But we are much more successful than that – many go on to become our managers and directors.”

Siân Pearce, training and development manager at Ian Williams

The trainee surveyor programme Ms Pearce oversees is a good example. It’s difficult to recruit surveyors right now, she says – but with the right culture, systems and incentives in place, Ian Williams has created a talented pipeline of trainees who truly understand the business.

“We have very little attrition [from the trainee surveyor programme],” she says. “Most of the trainees are inspired to come here and make the programme their means for a career in the industry. From day one they will be doing real work rather than sitting in classrooms, and they have six-monthly reviews, with four-figure pay reviews if they are successful.

“No one else in the organisation gets that – everyone else gets an annual review.

“So the opportunity to move forward and reap benefits within the role are incredible. They’re getting one-on-one training every day, and how well they do is down to the support they get.”

Retaining apprentices is a different challenge, as Ms Pearce admits. “You’re dealing with young people, and young people are focused on the short term and change their minds.”

According to the Skills Commission, more than 30% of apprentices drop out before completing their training. For Ms Pearce, the best approach to retaining more of them is to focus again on support.

“We are spending a significant amount of time focusing on mentors,” she says. “It’s always best to have someone who has been an apprentice mentoring you, and we are educating the rest of the business as a whole on what we need to do to support them.

“We need to develop everyone to achieve their and the company’s full potential,” Ms Pearce concludes.

 

Apprenticeship scheme

Focus on career progression

Aim: Learn new skills through mentoring
Result: School leaver went from apprentice, to decorator, to management

Ashley Ward, who began an apprenticeship at Ian Williams aged 16

Ashley Ward left school at 16 and began an apprenticeship at Ian Williams as a decorator. Today he is a contract supervisor with the same company – and that, he says, is thanks to the support and mentorship he has received throughout his career.

“I left school at 16 and didn’t really have a lot of ideas about what to do, so I got an apprenticeship with Ian Williams as a painter.

“Just before I started my dad got me to paint my bedroom as practice. I absolutely hated it! It took me ages, and I got paint all over the carpet.

“But I loved my apprenticeship from the start, thanks to the support I received. My supervisor interviewed me for the position and he was very supportive. He told me I had a lot of promise. And whenever he came on site he made a point of coming to see me, and he always had something nice to say about what I was doing.

“He always talked about the future – he said you can go quite far, just keep doing what you’re doing. That just gave me a spur, a little push to try a bit harder.

“But if I ever did anything wrong or was ever out of line, he was quick to come down on me. He was like a disappointed parent! I didn’t want to let him down, so it had a positive effect.

“After I qualified I just ticked along, doing my job. Then after a few years my contracts manager at the time asked whether I fancied running a job. I thought: ‘Yeah, I think I’m ready for that.’

“From that moment on he mentored me into taking the next steps: how to run jobs, what to do, what problems to overcome.

“I went from running little jobs to big jobs, then to multiple jobs at once. He is still my boss and he has been pivotal in taking me from being a decorator to being management.

“Having the experience and knowledge of the job you’re managing definitely helps. You get a bit of extra respect and people take what you say on board.

“The sky is the limit now. For now I’m focusing on doing my job and getting as good as I can at that, and then I’ll see where I go from there.”

 

Q&A: Shelagh Grant

Chief executive , Housing Forum

Do you feel the skills gap is addressable?
I do. The level of training of professionals today in both construction and manufacturing is relatively low, and we know we need to increase investment in it. We talk a lot about modern methods of construction, and that will require the development of new skill sets, too. But we are seeing people and organisations making conscious efforts to develop skills and professions, and at many different levels.

How much of a role can training, apprenticeships and staff retention play in tackling the skills shortage?

I believe they should play more of a role. The organisations we work with have seen a growth in training, but I think everybody recognises they need to continue on that trajectory. It’s good, but we need to keep going.

What is the picture at the moment?

We hear a lot of anecdotal stories but the organisations we work with certainly do seem to have their own change management underway and are investing in their own future. I think they understand that they have to grow their own talent.

Looking forward, we may well soon need multi-skilled operatives rather than single trade, for example. So it makes a lot of sense to me for organisations to develop their own people.

Are you optimistic? Is the sector moving in the right direction?

There is concern; this is a topic that always comes up. We’ve seen many organisations doing the best they can within their own scope, but there needs to be a stronger lead from government or from local agencies – local enterprise partnerships for example, who have the connections with local colleges and institutions. There does need to be a bigger conversation about this; we need to make construction more attractive to a diverse range of young people.

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