It’s tempting to cut when times get hard, but investment in training and developing new talent is vital to the industry’s future. Here’s how three major firms are offering tomorrow’s leaders the chance to learn the skills they’ll need

It’s pretty simple. In recessionary times, businesses need to make cuts. This means firms having to draw distinctions between what they need and what they want. For the construction industry, training budgets and developing new talent were two of the first “nice-to-haves” struck of the list of priorities when the downturn came. But over the last two years, concerns have been raised over whether this was wise, as thoughts turn increasingly to future skills in the industry - particularly in emerging markets like nuclear.

Last year Diane Johnson, Electrical Contractors’ Association president and financial director of electrical contractor Northwich, warned that unless the industry acted soon, it could be too late. “We are sitting on a ticking time bomb here if nobody addresses these issues,” she said. “Who is training up the future captains of our industry? The guys who really know their craft in this sector won’t be around forever.

“I can see why people don’t think it’s cost effective to take on people who need training up when money is tight but, in the long term, these people may not get jobs and then they won’t be paying taxes. We have had a tough few years with our business [Northwich] but we’re still taking on apprentices.”

She said that she wished more firms would do the same and, slowly but surely, it seems that her call is being answered, with more and more large firms installing internal training systems. “It’s good to see this happening more and more,” says Johnson.

“I think big companies are beginning to realise that a lot of this has to be done in-house for the best results.”

Here, we speak to three major construction firms focused on building up training facilities for their new recruits from within.


Industry giant Skanska is known in the UK for working on a number of major schemes, especially in London, including the Gherkin and the Heron Tower. The group ranked 11th in this year’s Top 150 contractors and housebuilders league.

Skanska offers a wide range of “learning on the job” opportunities for graduates, trainees, apprentices and even former offenders. Some roles for those with little or no previous experience in the industry simply require a GCSE level education. Courses offered by the firm could lead to opportunities in a number of key roles within the company including civil engineering, building services engineering, quantity surveying, land surveying and general construction.

Students and graduates are offered the chance to move between units so they can gain experience across Skanska’s wide range of disciplines, including building, civil engineering, piling, M&E, infrastructure services, residential, facilities services, utilities, ceilings and steel decking.

Paul Heather, managing director of Skanska’s London and South-east division, says: “It is essential that we continue to attract new and diverse entrants into the construction industry and so we ensure that we have a regular intake of graduates for all disciplines. We also sponsor a number of students through their study, ensuring they experience work life during holiday periods.

As well as graduates, we also focus on day-release students and offer work experience during summer holidays.”

The firm’s dedication to employing former offenders has seen 105 people since 2005 complete a 13-week training course to be part of the gas pipe replacement project around London that Skanska is working on for the National Grid. The training takes place while the offenders are in the last 12 months of their sentence. The course requires literacy skills at a standard that enables them to complete an NVQ level portfolio and follow health and safety instructions.

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Grontmij is one of Europe’s biggest design and engineering consultants with a £70m UK business. The UK division employs 950 people and the group now aims to train 20 people each year.

Geoffrey Palmer, director of building services, energy and environment, explains how the system works: “Rather than recruiting purely from among building services graduates, we have developed a programme to recruit free-thinking, problem-solving graduates with drive and a natural affinity for consultancy work. Once identified, the programme shapes that talent to make the individual ’work ready’. All graduate applicants are asked to attend an in-depth day-long assessment with presentations, interviews and role play. After being selected for a position, graduate employees are placed on a tailored four-year programme of work experience, continued modular learning and in-house CPD, and given support from a mentor. During the first two years, the graduate employees are placed in a design group to develop an understanding of the industry and given an assignment to work on.

“Where necessary, those without a building services degree undertake ’top-up’ learning modules for the first two years, one day a week at London South Bank University or Reading University. After successful completion of their second year at Grontmij and any modular learning, each graduate employee is given a review and assigned subsequent CPD and project work with additional responsibility for the next two years. After four years at the company and having met all the necessary learning and training requirements, the graduate employee is awarded corporate membership of engineering institutions (MCIBSE, MIMechE, MIET and so on). Currently just 20% of Grontmij’s graduate employees have a building services degree. The building services team also has a 100% job acceptance rate.”

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Paul Stubbs, head of learning and development for Davis Langdon, says: “Through our learning and development team, Davis Langdon encourages every member of staff, from graduates through to the senior leadership team, to take advantage of the variety of training, skills and knowledge advancement opportunities that are available.

“Our graduate development programme supports graduates in achieving professional accreditation within their relevant institution at the earliest opportunity, as well as helping them to identify and realise their own potential.

“Sharing the knowledge and expertise that we have within the business is vital to our success, so our Leadership Development Programme is shaped to ensure that our managers are equipped with the skills they need to lead. It is designed to provide a range of skills and knowledge to enable them to manage and build their teams effectively. This is done through a programme for improving personal and interpersonal management, teaching essential leadership skills and developing leadership potential, so that we are consistently identifying our senior leaders of the future.

“Our clients expect us to be the best, and learning and development plays a key role in helping us to achieve this. If a gap in an employee’s knowledge is identified, we offer numerous avenues for filling it, such as gaining new experience in different kinds of projects within their team, or internal training with one of the many experts within the company.
“In terms of formal training, we offer bespoke courses on a wide variety of topics. We also offer self-learning through our CPD guidance site with its vast range of resources and external courses - all of which the learning and development team is on hand to advise on.”

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