Participants and partners all gathered recently at the spectacular 21st floor Sky Lounge at Beckley Point in Plymouth to celebrate the success of the Step In Step Up project. This 18 month pilot project, funded jointly by the Construction Industry Training Board and the partners, aimed to encourage career changers to enter the construction industry at a professional level, using transferable skills gained from their past experience to help reduce the looming skills gap that the construction industry faces in the South West.
With 29 high calibre candidates recruited (out of a target of 24), this innovative project has been a great success. Participants came from a wide range of backgrounds – from post person to paramedic, from working in a betting shop to senior engineer at Transport for London, from the military to tree surgeon. 12 females were recruited (41% of the participants), which when compared with the 14% of females in the construction sector at the moment, is a major achievement. Seven participants have already gained sustainable jobs, with roles a trainee estimator, trainee quantity surveyor, gate person, and assistant site manager. Several other participants are currently working on fixed contracts with a good chance of a sustainable job thereafter, and there are many others actively looking for work in construction with enhanced CVs.
The Construction Skills Network report on the skills needs in the South West from 2017 to 2021 indicates that 1080 non-construction professionals, technical and IT personnel will be required. There are three major construction projects under way in the region: Hinkley Point C in Somerset, Sherford near Plymouth and Cranford near Exeter. The age profile of the current workforce is high, so new entrants are urgently required, particularly in areas of work such as Quantity Surveying and Estimating.
The partners for the project included Kier Construction, which took the lead, BAM, Devon and Plymouth Construction Industry Training Groups, ISG, Bovis Homes, LHC architects, Morgan Sindall, Midas, Cavanna Homes, Bovey Construction, Galliford Try, Willmott Dixon, Interserve and South Devon College as the training provider.
The College was able to provide bespoke training packages to each of the 29 participants to give them a good start in construction and to enable them to work safely on site. A variety of venues and times were arranged to maximise the participants’ access to the training on offer, and the flexibility of the College was much praised by the employer partners. Richard Stratford, Section Head for Projects, Grants and Partnerships at South Devon College, remarked: “As part of this project, we were able to provide over 29 different courses to participants at a variety of venues and times, including evenings and weekends, to maximise the access of the participants to the training. We are proud of how we have been able to offer tailor made programmes to each of the participants to help them change their careers and explore the opportunities provided by the construction industry.”
Armed with this training, the participants were able to undertake work experience with a range of construction employers in Plymouth and Devon to gain a good understanding of construction and the roles that would best suit them. Employers provided mentors for the participants, enabling them to gain an appreciation of the transferable skills of team working, problem solving and leadership and management.
Alastair Mullen, Senior Bid Manager at Kier, told the audience: “Effective recruitment to the industry is not a new problem, but it has become more complex and demand is due to become more acute. We agreed that we have to do something different in order to make a difference. We started detailed discussions about developing a career change programme to get more people into construction. Career changers were seen as a group that would have advantages of life skills and other transferable skills from the work place. We also identified the need to take some positive steps to attract more women into the industry.
As part of our commitment to the project, Kier planned from day one to take on a dedicated estimating trainee – a hard to recruit resource. We are delighted to have recruited Sarah Lockhart from a very talented shortlist of six.”
Sarah Lockhart, one of the successful participants on the project, is delighted with the outcome: “The project has had a significant impact on my life; Step In Step Up has enabled me to have a professional career!” Kier are supporting her attendance on an HNC in Plymouth, and also planning to sponsor her to degree level at the University of Sheffield. “The Step In Step Up project has been fabulous – it’s the only way I could afford to change careers“.
Roy Imeson, Advisor for the South West for the CITB, said “We have been very pleased with the way this pilot project has developed, and are impressed by its successes. We will be using the results of this project to develop future more large scale projects to help bridge the skills gaps and shortages in the South West, and look forward to working further with this strong partnership.
Lee Quayle, General Manager at Beckley Point, said: “It was a real honour to host the finale of the Step In Step Up project and extremely fitting that the first event to be hosted in Beckley Point’s stunning Sky Lounge is one which supports academic and professional development. Step In Step Up is something that we at The Student Housing Company have fully supported since its launch in July 2016, and it’s been a pleasure hearing about how successful it has been.
“The 83m skyscraper’s Sky Lounge offers views that stretch over Dartmoor, out into the Sound and as far as Cornwall, and we hope that offering such a unique venue for the event inspires many more to join the burgeoning construction sector down here in the South West and across the country.”