Fairness, Inclusion & Respect at the core of tackling construction skills shortage

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Leading contractors and clients have signed up to the construction industry’s Commitment to Fairness, Inclusion & Respect (FIR), as a key part of its strategy to modernise image and enhance perception of the sector

An estimated £600bn of work queuing up in the National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline, a well-documented existing skills shortage, plus the prospect of losing up to 8% of the workforce post-Brexit are just some of the key reasons behind the announcement of £64M for construction and digital training courses in the UK Government Autumn Budget.

Welcome as that funding might be, however, it is cultural change within the construction industry that holds the key to sustainable growth and workforce development through long-term talent recruitment and retention. People need to want to join the industry and build a career in it.

Addressing this burning issue is bringing together organisations from right across the built environment sector under the banner of Fairness, Inclusion & Respect (FIR). The FIR programme is being delivered by the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) and the Supply Chain Sustainability School with funding and support from the CITB.  The FIR programme seeks to help address the skills shortage in the sector and the risk this presents to major infrastructure, construction and housebuilding projects.

Now, with the launch of the FIR Commitment: Better For Everyone, contractors and clients are calling on construction to take a stand and commit to change, says Chief Executive of CECA, Alasdair Reisner:

“With an unprecedented amount of work in the pipeline, it is essential that the industry joins together to ensure that a career in construction is considered an attractive option for the next generation and that we retain and develop those already working in the sector.

“In signing up to the campaign, companies large and small are declaring their commitment to making their workplaces fairer, more inclusive and respectful. I’m delighted to see so many leading the way and committing to drive change within their businesses to make our industry ‘Better for Everyone’.”

Fairness, Inclusion & RespectWith 34 organisations already signed up, the Fairness, Inclusion & Respect Commitment: Better For Everyone has immediate sector-wide support – endorsed by leading Clients and Contractors including Network Rail, Balfour Beatty and GRAHAM Construction, as well as key supply-chain players such as Hercules Site Services.

The FIR Commitment: Better For Everyone represents a vital step forward in accelerating the transformation of the industry. The sector has a long way to go, however, as illustrated by figures from the annual survey of School FIR programme participants. The findings for 2017 reveal that whilst early-adopters are updating key HR and supply-chain processes, almost 90% have still to fully embed these changes, with as many as 1 in 3 yet to even start:

  1. Only 21% of organisations are monitoring diversity attraction and retention rates;
  2. Only 11% are changing procurement processes to drive a culture of FIR into supply chains;
  3. Only 11% have fully embedded FIR into recruitment practices; plus
  4. Only 10% have fully embedded FIR into people-management processes.

Intended programme impacts are beginning to be evidenced, though, as a result of organisations of all sizes undergoing FIR training. Beneficial outcomes range from better understanding of issues on the part of senior leadership teams and managers, to improvement in articulation and behaviours.

Drilling down into the detail, the direct benefits achieved by working on FIR through the School have also been identified and calculated by GRAHAM Construction. Specific rewards include: £300m in new work won; 15% increase in staff management skills, 13% rise in employee engagement and 5% jump in diversity of recruits; plus 3% drop in staff turnover.

The wider, positive implications of engagement on FIR are clear, says Managing Director Alan Bill:

“At GRAHAM Construction, our ambition is to be recognised as an industry leader for FIR, which offers us an opportunity as a business to think beyond our own boundaries and be part of creating an attractive industry that treats its people with the respect they deserve.

“We support the FIR Commitment as a form of collaboration to address challenges that affect all companies. It is a key part of a strategy to modernise the image and perception of construction and address a sector-wide skills shortage, so that we can build a talent pipeline for the future.”

With Fairness, Inclusion & Respect at its core, diversity and inclusion is vital to resilience and growth, ensuring construction as an industry reflects society as a whole, argues Paul Raby, Group HR Director, Balfour Beatty:

“A diverse and inclusive workforce is central to bridging the skills gap and ensuring the successful delivery of the pipeline of infrastructure projects over the next decade and beyond. The FIR Commitment is integral to this. We must have a workforce that is truly representative of the diverse world in which we live.”

The business case for FIR is therefore strong, both for the wider industry and for organisations making the Commitment, concludes founding Director of the Supply Chain School, Ian Heptonstall:

“To fix the disconnect between the multi-billion-pound promise of work in the pipeline and the emerging skills shortage, the industry must change, fast. Organisations that sign up to the FIR Commitment understand the urgency of the situation. It is a win-win scenario: taking action to contribute to the solution, they also position themselves to benefit from any potential for growth.”

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