Highways England’s £1.5 billion scheme to improve the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon has seen 21 miles of this major route upgraded to three lanes in each direction.
In a ground-breaking initiative, VGC works in partnership with supply chain partners Reliable Contractors, Danny Sullivan Group and Hercules Site Services to form an integrated labour team (ILT), which supplies all labour resources to the project. Together, we manage a diverse workforce of more than 300 people.
“We went through a very challenging tender process,” said Chris Ryan, operations director. “It started with a comprehensive pre-qualification questionnaire, then we were audited, including a behavioural assessment. It was all remarkably thorough.”
In July 2019 the project won the Considerate Contractors ‘Collaboration’ and ‘Fairness, Inclusion and Respect’ awards as well as the 2019 ‘Ultra-Site of the Year‘ award.
The ILT collaboration was recognised with the Innovation award at the A14 Supply Chain awards in January 2018, and the Highways England ‘improving employee engagement’ award in March 2019. The IDT won an Institute for Collaborative Working award in December 2018.
Our delivery manager on the project, James Burke, leads the ILT. Our ‘Be Safe by Choice’ key influencers are Baljit Singh, Ionut Roman and Rishi Khera (Rishi is also the site’s mental health champion).
We support a number of apprentices on the project. In November 2018 there were 78 apprentices across the A14: that’s over 25% of the workforce. VGC has supported 23 apprentices like Gurpreet Singh, on level 2 and level 3 (supervisor) qualifications.
In addition to apprenticeships, the A14 IDT works with the Prince’s Trust on a ‘Get into Highways’ programme for 18 – 30 year-olds. Candidates start with a two-week training course run by West Anglia Training Association, followed by two weeks’ work experience with the A14 teams.
James Burke worked with the IDT’s IT team to scope a new automated platform for workforce supply.
Centralised standard rates for trades, agreed by all ILT partners, are saved on the system. When a general foreman requires operatives, they log the requirements and location on the app. The costs are then pre-approved – also on the app – by the relevant works manager.
The request is then sent to the members of the ILT, who uploaded blind CVs in the 48-hour agreed timeframe. These CVs are then submitted to the project for review and selection by the works manager and foreman. Notes of the approved operatives are automatically sent back to the relevant ILT member to book the inductions, and the operative arrives on site when required.
The platform allows project managers to meet their labour requirements quickly and efficiently, and ensures roles are filled by the best possible candidates.
The whole process – from request, authorisation and candidate submission to selection and induction – is completely fair and transparent. The app also tracks and measures responses against the SLA. In addition, it can report on trends such as which trades are most in demand, allowing the ILT to run appropriate recruitment campaigns.
By ensuring all labour partners on the project have the same opportunities and are equally accountable, the technology has led to increased trust and co-operation.
Our workforce started by digging the trial holes early in the project, and then moved on to:
- logistics for site welfare
- concrete pours for road foundations and signalling gantries
- laying pipes for drainage for the new roads.
At the beginning of the project workers also assisted the MOLA Headland archaeologists. We protect the dig areas, where the researchers have already excavated a number of Stone age tools and Roman remains. Our teams also help by removing spoil from these dig areas. They have been taught to recognise archaeological indicators, and are helping to ensure that artefacts are not destroyed by accident during earthworks in other parts of the site.
Ganger Vasile Mihai won ‘observation of the month’ in March 2019 and was commended again in September 2019 for environmental observations.
Multi-skilled operative Adam Ali won an environmental award in June 2019. When he saw that a sweeper was leaking fuel, he stopped the driver, so it didn’t spread any further, and instigated the spill protocol.
In October 2019 the section 4 maintenance team won A14 ‘above and beyond’ awards for the way they look after 48 welfare units “to a very high standard, with a smile”. Mandeep Sandu (Danny Sullivan Group), Kamal Mehmi, Krishan Chand Sharma, Cosmin Roman and Stelica Enache (VGC) were presented with gift voucher: “You are a credit to the project.”
Brothers Adrian and Paul Nicolae were recognised in November 2020 for always going above and beyond their duties on site. They’re multi-skilled operatives helping to complete the A14 C2H project with work on verges, completing cycle, horse-riding and pedestrian paths, and final landscaping works.
The A14 Integrated Labour Team has pioneered the use of blind CVs in recruitment.
The team found that taking out name, project and company from CVs helps to remove biases in recruiting.
By focusing more on skills than on past history, the project has allowed new entrants to be considered purely on merit. That has had unexpected bonuses:
- The project is a happier place to work and staff turnover has reduced.
- VGC’s staff on the project are 73% BAME – well ahead of industry averages.
- People are keen to develop their careers, and there is consistent upskilling across the workforce.
- Productivity has increased. The road re-opened to traffic in December 2019, a year earlier than expected.
We’re going further and looking to recruit more senior team members on behaviours and attitudes, in addition to skills.
Fairness, inclusion and respect
Our team has played a large part in delivering presentations on fairness, inclusion and respect (FIR) to around 2,000 members of the workforce.
These included presentation on avoiding offence and using language to make people feel included. When people feel included they work better, the job is easier, and the site is safer as well as happier.
They also deliver regular safety training and toolbox talks, and head of HSQE Richard Wheeler has delivered manual handling training to the workforce to help keep them safe.
The UK’s biggest road upgrade
Highways Englands £1.5 billion scheme to improve the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon is managed by the A14 IDT (Integrated Delivery Team). The IDT, our client on the project, is a joint venture of Costain, Skanska and Balfour Beatty, with designers Atkins and Jacobs (was CH2m).
The project includes widening seven miles of this key arterial route in each direction. There is also a new 17-mile bypass south of Huntingdon, and a new junction at Swavesey. There will also be a new five-mile local access road, allowing local communities betweeen Huntingdon and Cambridge to avoid using the A14. 34 bridges and structures are being built as part of the scheme, including the new 750-metre long River Great Ouse viaduct.
David Bray, Highways England’s A14 project director, said: “The improvements we are delivering between Cambridge and Huntingdon are vital for the local area and for the country’s economy.”