Male, muddy and manual?

Source: RTM June/July 2018

Sponsored interview

Sean Hebden, rail director at Kier Group, tells RTM’s Luana Salles what the company is doing to change the perception of the built environment sector from ‘male, muddy and manual’ to one that can attract and retain the next generation of talent.

Sean Hebden is on an urgent mission to at- tract new talent into the built environment before it’s too late. “We are passionate about inspiring the next generation to consider the built environment,” he said. “If we don’t, the skills shortage will fast become a tick- ing time bomb; one that threatens £90bn  of UK GDP. We have phenomenal people working in the sector already, but we need to appeal to a much broader range of entrants - both those new to the workplace and those who want a career.”

And it’s not just talk. As part of its proactive attitude towards addressing the skills short- age, Kier is a patron of the 5% Club, com- mitted to having 5% of its workforce in early career and training programmes. And last year, it launched a campaign called Shaping Your World to show the built environment in formats that Generation Z (11- to 15-year- olds) can easily engage with, as well as chal- lenging misconceptions.

“These misconceptions include a general view of the industry as being male, muddy and manual,” explained Hebden. “The built environment has so much to offer. It pro- vides people from whatever background the opportunity to start a career in an exciting environment that shapes the world we all live in.

Reconsidering the industry

In a recent survey by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, two-thirds of respond- ents said that a lack of skilled workers was a key factor limiting building activity, while the skills shortage was cited as the second big- gest challenge facing the industry. From Ki- er’s own research of 2,000 parents, teachers and careers advisors, over half of teachers and parents (54%) surveyed still believe that there is a lack of career progression and that the industry is associated with lower-skilled workers. Over 40% of teachers were un- aware or hadn’t considered that there is even a skills shortage in the industry, and a staggering 98% didn’t know the true scale of the crisis. Almost two-thirds of teachers and careers advisors questioned (62%) held negative views of the industry as a route for their students to pursue.

The campaign encourages  young  people to take another look at careers in the built environment, demonstrating the range of roles, and routes into, the sector. Hebden is delighted with the success of the campaign’s dedicated website, which is attracting 10,000 members of the public each month.

“It allows them to explore all  aspects  of the built environment and learn about our sites through our innovative Virtual World Plaques, where exciting project content is unlocked by the simple scan of a smart- phone and hosted by a unique project-spe- cific avatar,” he explained. The Shaping Your World street scene highlights Kier’s contribution to delivering rail projects and making level crossings safer.

Changes on the ground

Signs of improvement are already starting to happen – not least, says Hebden, some of the newest recruits to Kier’s rail team as gradu- ates and placement students. Royce Turner, a graduate engineer, joined just weeks ago but is already seeing how the industry can provide a long and fulfilling career.

“I am aiming towards Chartership with the Institution of Civil Engineers, with a plan to end in a project management role,” he said. “The Chartership will allow me to further develop my career and open doors in other areas. I would love to continue to progress my career, working with Kier and everyone who I have met so far.”

Turner joined after gaining a BSc in Civil Engineering, while others, including trainee quantity surveyor Matthew Law, are joining the Kier rail team straight from A-Levels on the Kier Degree Programme.

“The degree programme is made up of an 18-month foundation degree topped up by  a further three-year Bachelor’s degree in Quantity Surveying at Sheffield Hallam Uni- versity, which is what I am working towards,” explained Law. “This training programme allowed me to be able to work full-time whilst studying for a degree; this was a massive sell- ing point and offered the best of both worlds. I personally believe experience is just as valuable as higher education, so the combi- nation of both presents a great opportunity to excel and develop. The most interesting thing about rail is learning about all of the different elements of the projects and con- struction processes and procedures. Learning how things work and investigating new devel- oping technologies is exciting and is also not common knowledge outside of the industry, giving an exclusive aspect to it all.”

Not put off by the perceived male dominance of the built environment, Samantha Pan joined Kier Rail as a graduate signalling de- signer under the signalling training scheme. “The programme is training me from a graduate to a highly-skilled, qualified signal- ling designer with both computer-based and on-site experience,” noted Pan. “It combines work experience with formal technical train- ing and professional development.”

She also loves the Kier working environ- ment: “The rail team is a big family com- mitted to diversity in the workplace. As a young professional, I am not only supported by my line manager, but also other experi- enced colleagues. We work together. We learn together. We improve together. We become stronger together. My long-term goals involve continuing to learn, take on additional responsibilities, and contribute as much value as I can. Once I gain additional knowledge and experience, I would like to move on from a technical position to man- agement.”

To ensure there are more young people to follow the likes of Pan, Law and Turner, Kier has pledged 1% of its workforce – including current and previous apprentices – as Kier Career Ambassadors, working with schools and colleges to engage with 10,000 students over the next 12 months. This recently in- cluded a visit to two schools in Lancing, East Sussex, near to where Kier is working on the Brighton Main Line upgrade, to talk about the dangers of level crossings to children aged nine to 11.

Kellie Judd, one of Kier’s Signalling Design- ers and a mum with children the same age, explained the Network Rail scoring system and how Lancing level crossing, ranked at two, is considered extremely dangerous. The pupils played a game focused on speed to help them think about how fast animals, people and vehicles travel. They discovered squirrels run at 12mph, a little slower than a child, while the fastest land animal is a cheetah at 72mph, compared to trains at 125mph.

Judd also talked to the children about peer pressure, common sense and risk with the help of a safety quiz. “Sometimes it’s easy  to forget about common sense; sometimes you get distracted,” she said. “Seeing other people doing something that is not safe does not mean it would be okay for you. I found working with the children really rewarding. I hope I’ve changed their view of our indus- try, and perhaps inspired some talent for the future.”

With these initiatives in place, the ticking  of that time bomb might still be some way off yet.

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   10/11/2018 at 10:25

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