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Too radical? How SME tie-ups can take skills solutions up a notch

November 18, 2016 − by Charles Day − in Latest Updates, Our Showcase, Updates − No Comments

This is a column from Associate Director, Danny Frost published by Construction News, 04.11.2016 about smaller firms using their agility and responsiveness to power collaborative training opportunities.

The construction industry employs two million people in the UK and accounts for more than 6 per cent of GDP. As one of the UK’s leading economic drivers, its impact on the economy and the importance of its continued growth cannot be overstated.

Recruitment firm Randstad CPE says the UK needs to recruit as many as one million new workers by 2020 to meet the rising demand for new homes and infrastructure, and to replace the loss of construction workers expected to retire over the next five years.

SMEs have an advantage of being more agile and responsive, and are able to focus on collaboration in a way that larger firms cannot”

Critically, the skills shortage facing the industry today has a negative impact on the quality of workmanship, and threatens the sector’s ability to keep to budget and deliver projects on time.

No simple solutions

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach that can fix the employee deficit, and any solution certainly goes beyond individual organisations.

While the government’s new apprenticeship levy comes into play in Q1 2017 and goes some way to addressing the issue, it is not the whole solution. We must try something new and we cannot rely on larger construction companies to train the future workforce on behalf of the entire industry.

We believe collaboration and partnership as a means of upskilling the labour force and reducing training costs is an inevitable shift for the sector, and SMEs are a powerful force in helping to drive this shift. SMEs have an advantage of being more agile and responsive, and are able to focus on collaboration and shared training opportunities in a way that larger firms cannot.

One way this is currently achieved is through tailored secondment programmes. The proven benefits are numerous, not least that junior employees are able to become completely immersed in the day-to-day operations of a team to quickly gain invaluable ‘on the job’ exposure to a variety of learning opportunities tailored to their needs.

Client benefits

It is also an opportunity for trainees to gain a deeper understanding of what prospective clients want and equipping them with a greater understanding of the industry. Clients benefit commercially too, as they will gain a required resource at a discounted rate.

The next logical step is towards a ‘sharing economy’, using shared training and development resources for the greater good of the industry.

Contractors and subcontractors can share training programmes and split costs for employees needing to upskill. Too radical for some?”

During the late 1980s, a medium-sized contractor invited all its freelance employees to join direct employees in training courses. At the time this was a radical approach. By the 90s it became the norm for consultants working on frameworks together to be introduced to combined training opportunities as a means to drive consistency, quality and uniformity through a supply chain.

Is it therefore a natural step to tap into the potential of providing training opportunities to individuals and businesses that may not be connected at all? This could, in practice, include pooling training budgets across a variety of companies working towards a shared objective or goal.

As an example, contractors and subcontractors can share training programmes and split costs for employees needing to upskill in similar areas, or alternatively, partnerships between client and consultant would also be mutually beneficial. Too radical for some, maybe?

Training as an extravagance

Some construction firms see training and development as an extravagance – they do it if they have time – but it is not seen as a core part of their commercial success. We are never going to meet what’s required if we are not investing our resources efficiently and effectively.

Training opportunities must be treated as a commodity. If we don’t start working in partnership to adopt a fundamentally different approach to developing our workforce, there will be little chance of safeguarding the future of the industry – and the wider UK economy.

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