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Team training gives Sisk's graduates the big picture

When John Sisk & Sons reorganised its graduate training programme it moved from discipline-specific groups to training a cross-section of graduates.

Training in construction specialisms has traditionally happened in silos – trainees in disciplines such as QS, engineering and construction management stick together, learning in individual groups.

At John Sisk & Son, the training team attempted to address this when they reorganised the way the company’s graduate training is planned two years ago.  

Instead of training according to discipline, the company’s Excelerate Programme trains graduates in teams where they undertake a series of learning and experience modules across a number of projects.

The four-year programme has been built around the requirements of relevant institutions such as the Chartered Institute of Building, the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, while also incorporating elements to address Sisk’s needs.

Creating effective teams

The training is intended not only to develop the construction-specific skills of its graduates, but also an understanding of other disciplines and an ability to work together as they progress within the company.

“The mentor is responsible for checking the graduate has achieved the experience they need for their specialist area”

Rob Oxley, John Sisk & Son

“The aim is to give the graduates the skills to operate in the industry for themselves,” says John Sisk & Son contracts manager Andy Cox, who is also a mentor to one of the graduates on the inaugural scheme.

It is also intended to create and develop the next generation of Sisk middle and senior managers over the next seven to 10 years.

The training is made up of workshops, online learning, assignments and practical experience.

Graduates are given exposure to different business units via a number of placements across the four years.

“They spend approximately six months on each project placement, with the intention that by moving them around the business, they gain experience in differing sectors and have the exposure to complete their modules,” Mr Cox says.

It also means that by the end of the four years, the employees can make an informed decision about their future career path.

Ongoing support

Each graduate is given a mentor in their specialism who is a constant contact and provides support for the graduates as they move from project to project.

“The mentor is responsible for checking the graduate has achieved the experience they need to for their specialist area,” says John Sisk & Son HR manager Rob Oxley.

Mentors are also there to field questions, give feedback and offer support to those on the training scheme.

As part of the programme the graduates log their experience to make sure they are getting the level of detail required in their specialist area. “It’s a hybrid of learning and development so the graduates are always building the skills they’re learning,” Mr Cox explains.

Development from the top

Although the core of the course is common to all graduates, the experience they gain is specific to the individual, and even the very highest levels of the management team take an active interest in developing the graduates.

“We expect a lot from the graduates, but the investment the company puts in is significant and ongoing,” says John Sisk & Son head of HR Helen Walpole.

“The graduate review panel, which is made up of the managing director and the board of directors, meets approximately every four months to make decisions on the next placement for graduates, so they get full visibility.”

Retaining flexibility

As the programme is still relatively new, the team wants to make sure it is fully adaptable to suit the needs of the graduates and the company. “We’re mindful that we need to be flexible and adapt,” Mr Oxley says.

One area that was identified as needing to be brought forward was report writing, so the team shifted the report-writing module to bring it much earlier on in the programme.

“These graduates will be leaders in seven to 10 years’ time and the best time to start that leadership training is at the beginning”

Helen Walpole, John Sisk & Son

“We make little tweaks to the course all the time,” Ms Walpole says. “When the CIOB looked at the programme they were very positive, and suggested we emphasised presentations more. We update it constantly to keep the programme live and current.”

The investment for the training programme comes directly from the company, and each graduate has a permanent contract from day one.

The range of situations and projects the graduates work across during their four years are intended to prepare them for real and often highly pressured project management roles, among other options.

“It gives them the skillset to run a project and the systems and relationships to do that,” Mr Cox says.

And it’s not just the graduates who learn from the curriculum. “As a by-product of the programme the mentors gain skills, such as leadership and management,” Mr Oxley says.

The first intake saw 17 graduates join the scheme, but the company is hoping to take between 20 and 25 this year across a range of disciplines.

“These graduates will be leaders in seven to 10 years’ time and the best time to start that leadership training is at the beginning,” Ms Walpole says. “The training builds skills year on year.”

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