It’s been a busy month for me in a newly-created role as corporate social responsibility manager at VGC Group, especially as I have moved to a completely different sector.
In my case, the move was from banking to construction.
I have spent my time listening to colleagues and learning about the company’s policies and practices. I now realise just how pivotal the construction industry is to job creation here in the UK.
Exciting infrastructure projects
I live very close to Ealing Broadway station. For the past three years I have seen the landscape change there because of the development of Crossrail. The biggest construction project in Europe, Crossrail is responsible for adding £42bn to the UK economy. Along its route it has provided employment opportunities for thousands of people, including 5,000 long-term unemployed. In addition, it has enabled more than 4,000 people to upskill through apprenticeship opportunities, providing a solid career path in the construction industry. One of the main companies providing labour solutions to Crossrail contracts is my new employer VGC Group.
I started to think that if the construction industry is creating so many employment opportunities across the UK through exciting infrastructure projects, what role will I play in this job creation story? The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) forecasts that 158,000 construction jobs are set to be created over the next five years, despite Brexit uncertainty. CITB also predicts that carpenters, process managers and professional staff will be in great demand.
Exploring some myths
In my new role I want to explore some of the myths about working in this industry: myths like “construction is just for boys”, or “apprenticeships only offer limited career potential”. In reality, more than 320,000 women work in the construction industry. And, as I found out by talking to my colleagues, many senior managers started their careers as apprentices.
Currently only 8% of the construction workforce in the UK is under 25. Of the 20,000 who start an apprenticeship only 8,000 complete it. Why is this? What interventions would support them to complete their apprenticeships? VGC has recently promoted Simon Clamp to another newly-created role, that of learning and development manager, specifically to support our apprentices.
I will also think about how we might improve the way we market the industry to the next generation and promote construction as a valuable career path for younger workers. One way to do this is through initiatives like VGC’s dedicated schools’ engagement programme. This helps young people understand the various roles that companies like us have to offer, using materials like our career path map (500kb pdf), which identifies some of the options available. In addition to the three partner schools close to our HQ in Ruislip in west London, I plan to research more partners who can help us reach an even greater number of students.
Fairness, inclusion and respect
We need the valuable talent that enters our industry to stay and enjoy working here. To that end, we must meet their expectations of an inclusive workplace culture and a reasonable work/life balance.
The Equality Act of 2010 states that people must be treated with respect and integrity. How does this actually play out at VGC? We are proud to be one of the 36 pioneering FIR ‘Better for Everyone’ contractors. As part of the Fairness, Inclusion and Respect (FIR) in Construction initiative, our trained FIR ambassadors (I am now the nineth!) offer support to everyone across our company, and deliver FIR toolbox talks and presentations to the workforce on sites across the country.
At the moment, the construction industry is fishing for recruits from a very limited pool of talent. I want to demystify the construction and rail industries by introducing new initiatives and reconsidering those that already exist in order to help more people make informed career choices.
Author: Swati Patel, CSR manager