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Where to find the new recruits

Service leavers, ex-offenders and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are just some of the groups Skanska is increasingly focusing on as it steps up ‘social recruitment’. The teams responsible talk candidly about their experiences in broadening diversity and tackling skills shortages.

Recruiting from the armed forces

As the industry struggles to fill vacancies, the military is being seen as fertile recruitment ground by firms in the sector.

But while there is growing acknowledgment that construction should be able to harness the exemplary leadership and logistical skills many service-leavers possess, the reality can be different.

Hirers often want ready-made experience and find it hard to look beyond a less traditional resume. As a consequence, companies can struggle to align service-leavers’ skills to their needs.

That hurdle is being overcome at Skanska where managers are increasingly willing to take a chance on those with different experiences under their belt. “It was difficult to begin with,” says Skanska resourcing manager Israil Bryan.

“Sending the CV of a bomb disposal expert to a line manager who is looking for a construction manager, for example: it’s difficult for the manager to see how they might fit in.”

“The fact the military was making redundancies, it seemed to us like a no brainer”

Israil Bryan, Skanska

Israil has been working with service-leavers for about 18 months, drawing their skills and potential to the attention of hiring managers.

“We started looking at the military because of resourcing challenges. We looked around the business and saw people in senior positions with military backgrounds. Aligned to the fact the military was making redundancies, it seemed to us like a no-brainer.”

Knowing it would be challenging to make it work, Israil started a veteran’s network to help support her in a more proactive approach to military recruitment.

At the same time she began working closely with the Career Transition Partnership (the MoD’s official provider of armed forces resettlement) and held open days to provide informal occasions where those planning to leave the service could meet Skanska line managers, who work with a central HR team on recruitment.

“When we looked at the military we saw skillsets and values that matched ours,” Israil says.

“Values are what we’re looking for. Technical skills, you can often teach. And that’s where we have been able to open peoples’ eyes.

“It’s not easy, as they often have in mind exactly what they want for a role. But at an open day they might find a candidate they like and get in contact when a job comes up.

“The key is we’re not putting pressure on our managers to hire; that way, they are much more open to the long-term potential of some of the people we are putting forward.”

Lorraine Cadle from the CTP says: “Armed forces leavers do have extremely transferrable business skills and a number of construction firms understand that.

“Skanska’s approach has been fantastic across the whole spectrum, including providing placements for those discharged because they have been wounded and sick.

“Skanska has also signed our corporate covenant, demonstrating they are an employer with military-friendly policies in terms of reservists.”

From soldiering to Skanska – Jamie MacDonald

Jamie MacDonald spent 24 years in the Royal Marines and then two years in the US army before joining Skanska in March as a health and safety adviser for the facilities business. He served in Afghanistan as a sergeant major.

Jamie McDonnald health and safety adviser Skanska

When you leave the army you go from hero to zero overnight.

One minute you’re at the top of the game, the next minute you’re nothing. I remember sitting in a service station on the A12 in February this year and bursting into tears.

My phone was bleeping with a stream of texts informing me that my job applications had been unsuccessful. I’d applied for 217 and got nothing, and was working doing health and safety audits for peanuts just to get some experience. My CV read like an Andy McNab book but I had few qualifications.

“My CV read like an Andy McNab book but I had few qualifications”

Jamie MacDonald, Skanska

Then my phone rang. It was Skanska offering me an interview. When I turned up for it,  it was clear to me the way it operates mirrored that of the military and that’s what attracted me to the position. Its ethics, standards and values sit very comfortably with what I’m used to.

I was recruited for my man-management skills – my boss, Eileen Roddis, had a clear idea of the sort of person she was after, and it is to her credit she had the foresight to look past my CV.

I love my job – and I can’t say strongly enough how fantastic Skanska has been to me.

Service-leavers are recruited from every section of society, so in recruiting from the military Skanska is already broadening diversity.

But it takes a bit of getting used to – in the military you are used to waiting your turn to speak; here we’re encouraged to put forward our opinions.

Seeing the potential in ex-offenders

Skanska has also been working with the Young Offender Programme led by National Grid since 2008.

This is a training and employment programme focused on the rehabilitation of offenders and works with prisoners coming towards the end of their sentences, providing training and sustainable employment on release.

Essential to the programme’s success is the delivery of work-based training that’s outside the prison while the offender is still serving his or her sentence, plus the seamless transition into employment at the date of release.

This means all candidates must be eligible for release on temporary licence (ROTL) and pass stringent prison selection boards. The programme reduces reoffending – for those moving into the oil and gas sectors, for example – to just 7 per cent.

Skanska UK head of HR service delivery Mary Goodey says almost 200 people have gone through the programme, with 12 people currently employed on the scheme.

The company starts selecting candidates six months before release, often offering them positions in the utilities side of the business.

“If you offer someone a chance to turn their life around they’ll reward you with hard work and huge loyalty and that’s not to be underestimated”

Mary Goodey, Skanska

Mary says the nature of the programme brings its own constraints and issues: work needs to be close by to the prison and there need to be good transport links.

Those coming out on day release can be under pressure to break the rules from their fellow inmates and it’s vital they are given a high degree of support and mentoring. ROTL rules are stringent: one ex-offender was recently struck off the programme for smuggling sim cards back into prison.

“You also have to remember that in prison, they are told when to go to sleep, when to eat, when to exercise – so they are not always able to take decisions for themselves.

“But I wouldn’t hesitate to promote ex-offenders as great candidates and an untapped source of talent. If you offer someone a chance to turn their life around they’ll reward you with hard work and huge loyalty, and that’s not to be underestimated.”

A fresh approach to early careers

As it looks to bolster the number of those at the early stages of their career, Skanska is adopting new recruitment practices to put less emphasis on qualifications and more on candidates’ values and potential.

“The emphasis of our recruitment ads is all about our values, not about the money and the benefit,” says emerging talent manager Sally Scott.

“We want people to join us for the right reasons. We’ve started screening people for their values, rather than academic qualifications, which is a great step forward.

“For our apprenticeship, we’re thinking of dropping requests for any qualifications at all and instead looking at candidates’ strengths rather than academic attainment.

“We’ve got a lot of people who have done very well in our business without three As at A-level.”

Skanska has doubled the number of young people it has recruited to 230 and has already passed the eligibility target for the 5% Club, of which it is now a member.

The club consists of companies which have committed themselves to having 5 per cent of their UK workforce comprising young people on structured training schemes over the next five years.

“What we try to do when recruiting young people is look for people who fit our values regardless of their social background,” Sally says.

Alongside providing employment, Skanska has also stepped up its work with Neets (not in employment, education or training) by providing four-week programmes based at the Tunnelling Academy in London to equip them with basic construction and life skills.

All the candidates who finished the programme were found roles with Skanska or the supply chain.

“In the coming months we will be working with the Leonard Cheshire charity to better understand internships for those with disabilities,” Sally says.

“We are aiming to recruit apprentices from our prison programme, and work closely with universities and colleges too.

“Our aim is to have our development programmes reflect our values and make people want to stay with the business.

“Our job is to ensure people are happier in their work. There are statistics to show the happier you are, the more productive you can be.”

From soldiering to Skanska – Chris Good

Chris Good joined Skanska as a project manager in the utilities division 12 months ago. Previously he spent 16 years in the Royal Artillery where he’d had a variety of roles, including defence intelligence and the battery command of 134 soldiers in Afghanistan. He finished his army career as a major.

Skanska has skills gaps in middle management and needs people who are comfortable out on site pulling a disparate group of people together, and can also come to the office and speak to the managing director. It’s kind of what we do in the military – planning and leading.

We’re pretty comfortable leading large groups. You go through [officer training academy] Sandhurst and when you come out you immediately get 30 people to manage – and by the end it was 134. So we’re comfortable with responsibility for large numbers.

“46 people died in the UK working in construction in 2013. That’s twice as many fighting in Afghanistan in the same year”

Chris Good, Skanska

I initially went through the Career Transition Partnership, which helps those coming out of the military to find jobs in industry, and I also tapped into the military fraternity at Skanska.

I got taken on as a project manager in the utilities division, where jobs aren’t really as technical as say, putting up a building. I got a cracking induction which lasted eight weeks.

I’m currently working on a multi-million-pound mains rehabilitation programme for Thames Water, replacing water-mains throughout London. It involves going to site every two weeks and I’ve got design, commercial and construction teams reporting to me.

Commercial issues and health and safety are probably the two biggest differences. In the army, the needs of the service and any given mission always come first. The needs of the individual come a very close second.

On operations, servicemen and women are required to [tally] risk with personal safety and that of others. I’ve helped plan operations where there is a strong likelihood there will be fatalities and life-changing injuries and we’d put a whole medical and logistical wrap around that to cater for that anticipated level of injury.

In construction you can’t say I’m building the Gherkin and I expect two dead and three injured at the end of it. Work on site can only take place in an injury-free environment and you only have to watch the video included in Skanska’s H&S induction to operating an injury-free environment for the message to hit home.  

Ex-servicemen know more than most the raw and dreadful consequences of losing life and limb in the workplace and they will do all they can to reduce the risks to an absolute minimum. Over my career, I’ve lost several friends and colleagues and will never forget having to tell their families of their loss

I do find it staggering that in the wider construction industry there are so many fatalities; 46 people died in the UK working in construction in 2013. That’s twice as many fighting in Afghanistan in the same year.

The commercial aspect is another major difference. I’d never written anything down contractually, or filled in a timesheet, or asked how much something cost.

So that’s quite a cultural shift for ex-forces; we tend to just get on with it and not think about doing so affordably and making margins. But all of that is covered in the induction process and it becomes second nature quite quickly.

I would say people with military backgrounds are determined to get the job done and are motivated self-starters. Many of my ex-military friends went into security, financial services or into a training job.

Guys like me don’t come into the construction world. We’re not aware of it, and the sector is not aware of us. But I think the penny has dropped now and the industry recognises many of our transferable skills.

This article has been produced in collaboration with Skanska as partnership publishing

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