Contractor Hills Electrical & Mechanical tackles skills shortages with post A-level training, as human resources co-ordinator Adele Turner explains
How has the firm been affected by skills shortages?
Like most building services contractors, Hills is suffering from the massive shortage of skilled personnel, especially project managers. Although the problem is most acute in the south of England, it is affecting all our 14 regional centres across the UK. Hills is growing fast and needs a constant supply of talented and experienced managers to cope with rising workloads.

What solution has Hills adopted to fill the vacant posts?
We prefer not to poach other contractors' staff, as this would give us a bad name in the industry, and managers who are open to an approach will probably be tempted away again quite quickly. We believe it's also more economical to grow our own people rather than buy experience.

So, four years ago, we introduced a management trainee programme, and have so far recruited around 30 sixth-form or college leavers. The training programme lasts four years, and we have just seen the first intake of "graduates" from it. All the original 12 recruits are still with Hills and all have gained distinctions in their college work as well as making their contribution in the workplace.

How does Hills attract 18-year-olds of the right calibre?
We were looking for A-level students who may have been considering going to university, so we had to offer an attractive package. This includes high-quality training, a salary rather than hourly wages and the prospect of a management role with a company car on completion of the course.

We prefer not to poach other contractors’ staff. We believe it’s more economical to grow our own people rather than buy experience

We put together a professional brochure, which was sent to careers offices and sixth-form colleges around the country to outline the benefits of joining Hills. The brochure emphasised the management opportunities, and the photos were of people in suits, not overalls.

As this is the fourth year of the programme, news has also spread by word of mouth that it is one of the best training packages around. The training programme was put together to provide the right balance of site and office skills. In the first two years, the trainees take two City & Guilds electrical installation courses, as well as the BTEC National Certificate in Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

While completing the courses, they gather enough practical experience to get their NVQ Level III in electrical installations and become fully qualified electricians. In the third and fourth years, students go on to complete an HNC in Building Services while working on site or in the office. During this time they will also undertake in-house management training with Hills.