Cementing the connection between people and the bottom-line


Britain's building and construction industry has long recognised it has an image problem – low wage, black market, low skilled, high turnover, sexist, white and male dominated.

The reality can be very different. Yes, women may make up just nine per cent of its workforce (and a mere one per cent of bricklayers and labourers) and, yes, turnover may average a whopping 30 per cent, but many firms are doing their best to change things.

Six years ago the Change the Face of Construction organisation was set up, and the Construction Industry Training Board has done a lot of work in trying to show candidates that it is an industry that wants to embrace a more diverse workforce.

What's more, by nurturing a culture of training and development, particularly at manager level and above, firms can slash their staff turnover rates, retain and challenge workers and become more diverse, one industry player has argued.

Sisk, a leading £156m turnover, 520 employee, construction firm established in 1859 has reduced staff turnover by some 10 per cent, to around 20 per cent by investing in training and development.

Pierce O'Shea, managing director, speaking as the company announced pre-tax profits of £1.7 million for the year ending 31 December 2004 admitted that the issues are real.

"There is definitely an image problem. Women and skilled individuals will often self-select themselves out of the recruitment process because they fear the industry will not welcome them. However, once you get a graduate you normally retain them. The trick is getting them in the first place," he told Management-Issues.

One of the difficulties is that candidates rarely understand, at least initially, the difference between the professional industry and contractors.

Unlike in a contracting firm, within the professional industry, candidates will often be working in high-powered management jobs and leading large teams of people on big projects on short time-lines, he argued.

"It is an exciting and varied industry, when people come into it they see that. Every job and every project is different," he said.

Most staff will go on three to four days training a year, with formal programmes for graduates and others who are either in management, or aspire to be in management, positions.

"It's a very competitive marketplace for talent in building and construction and firms have to work hard to both attract and retain the best people," he concludes.