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Kier does community services

Kier Building Maintenance is challenging stereotypes with its apprenticeship scheme

Graffiti artists and vandals might not be the people who immediately spring to mind when hiring staff to make buildings more beautiful. But as we all clamour for the best employees, we need to think creatively about where these people might come from.

Kier Building Maintenance has managed to combine finding good apprentices, developing a community and hiring some of its next generation of managers in one – and saving about £2,500 of recruitment costs per head in the process.

The City Stewardship (CS) programme lasts for six months and trains disaffected 16- to 18-year-olds in painting and decorating, garden maintenance and general repairs. It is run in Sheffield by the city’s council, Kier and local training organisations.

It won the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s people management award last month. Kier’s entry makes no bones about the teenagers on the scheme. “Many recruits to CS come from families characterised by generations of worklessness. Many have participated in vandalism or burglary or had personal difficulties such as drug or alcohol abuse,” it says.

About 40 supervisors will work on the programme at once, and these are people who may have worked for the company for some time. Vic Haigh is a painter and decorator by trade and then worked as a supervisor.

“Most of the people you get are good lads and they just want to learn,” he says. “They might have low self-esteem or see themselves as a failure. We used to get some people who turned up late or couldn’t get on with the other trainees. There are people who don’t want to do anything.”

He is now the scheme’s overall training supervisor and the 40 site supervisors report to him. Since the scheme started 10 years ago, some of the homes in areas covered by CS had a high chance of being burgled more than once – of those which had suffered a break-in, 70 per cent would have a second one.

But if the CS programme had carried out a ‘target hardening’ project on the houses then that figure dropped to 5 per cent.

Very positive effect

Mr Haigh says: “The stereotype is that they are vandalising the community but instead they are doing work to improve it – they are getting the credit. It tends to have a very positive effect.”

CIPD chief executive Jackie Orme says it was relatively surprising to have construction businesses winning its people awards.

Gentoo, a social housing developer in Sunderland, and London-based contractor Byrne Group won in the employee engagement and learning and development categories respectively.

Byrne won for its scheme to get all willing staff to do NVQs in their chosen trades and has trained more than 500 in the past two years.

“There were over 150 entrants,” Ms Orme says. “We were looking for three very good entries that were top of the class. It was a combination of creativity as well as getting results.”

Kier won overall for its firm business benefits. “It took the management problem of supply of apprentices and combined this with social responsibility. They looked at the issue in a broad way, always with emphasis on results. It is tough finding good apprentices,” she says.

The firm has used trades people who already worked in the firm and trained them to become mentors. Some of the supervisors, such as Mr Haigh, have then taken on a managerial role which would have cost around £2,500 to recruit for externally.

Two-thirds of the trainees move on to permanent jobs, mainstream education or training and last year 10 of the trainees were offered apprenticeships with Kier.

She adds that the construction industry ought to be publicising its people skills more. “I was very impressed. There was a willingness to do some new stuff but in a grounded way.”


Telford-based M&E specialist Dodd Group has taken on 62 modern apprentices, including nine this year. Purpose-built training rooms have been put together with its supply chain which provides equipment such as boilers and air source heat pumps.

Director Nick Jones says its subcontractors were happy to help. “From their perspective they are promoting their product to us, and our clients will see it as well when they visit the training centre,” he says. The firm has been over-subscribed for places on its scheme.

It also works with the Government’s welfare-to-work programme to try to get those on benefits into a job. But it is not that easy to recruit these people.

“The most difficult thing is people’s attitude. If they want to work, then it’s great. But it’s a delicate issue. We are governed by salaries – the unskilled salary might not reflect what they can get in benefits,” says Mr Jones.

The firm’s development manager Adrian Peters says that these people can retain their benefits while training. “It’s an incentive to gain a sustainable income and once they’ve done their training, they can get a job at a skilled level.”

Similar to Kier, Dodd Group also keeps an eye on people who could progress further and move into site management, design or quantity surveying, by earmarking people to become junior leaders.


  • Jordan Gascoigne left school with three GCSEs at grades F and G and level 1 literacy and numeracy. He worked on the scheme as a painter and decorator and says if he wasn’t doing this he’d be “sitting on street corners getting into trouble”.

  • Jonathon Boot (right) got three GCSEs at grades F and G. Instead of hanging around on the street he says he’s now learning new things and meeting new people.

  • Thirty-five trainees have become Kier staff since the scheme started in 2003.

  • Thanks to the programme, 1,300 homes have been painted and decorated, 3,400 homes have been made more secure and nearly 10,000 gardens have been repaired and made safe.