"Respect for People" is a serious business. A hefty pile of reports and toolkits awaited the unsuspecting conference delegates. Some are daunting, and will need shortening and simplifying if they are to catch the eye of small companies. Large firms like mine, Willmott Dixon, have directors of training or human resources whose job it is to implement the latest advice on best practice. But most firms in the industry are very small. The boss is the proprietor and is either on site or on the telephone trying to sort out suppliers or looking for new work. When such bosses get home at night, the last thing they want to do is plough through a long and complex report.
We have to communicate the message in a form that will grab the attention of small firms, and be seen by them as practical and relevant.
One vital aspect is site safety. The conference was inspired by a strong speech by UCATT leader George Brumwell on that subject. Linked to safety is decency on sites; proper toilet, changing and washing facilities and canteens – things most other industries take for granted. There are still too many sites that are neither decent nor safe. The industry can hardly be surprised if many youngsters do not feel attracted to such primitive and dangerous places of work.
Another requirement is diversity. The Royal Holloway report, commissioned by the Construction Industry Training Board, on the retention and career progression of black and Asian people in the construction industry was published at the same time as the conference.
When bosses get home the last thing they want to do is plough through a complex report
The report was not written by the CITB. It is a call to all organisations, including the government and the education sector, to implement its recommendations. One reader, on Building's letters page ("Quotas are for products, not people", 18 October) thought that the CITB itself had made those recommendations. That was not the case, although board members have welcomed the general thrust of the report, and will engage with the proposals specifically addressed to the CITB.
It is not the CITB's intention, neither is it within the CITB's power, to impose ethnic quotas on industry workforces. The CITB does not employ construction trade labour and does not tell others how they should employ people either – although it does help them to train and upskill their labour force, and it urges a strong diversity agenda in its publicity and through local collaborative projects.
Previous editions of Building have highlighted serious alleged racist abuse on sites. There is no excuse for racism. Every company should have disciplinary procedures to deal with it. As an industry, we need to do much more to reach out to women and ethnic minorities in our recruitment policies. That does not mean waiting for them to ring us up. As the report shows, good recruitment practice involves positive moves by firms to encourage under-represented groups to enter the industry. The recent CITB advertising campaign has been particularly strong in that regard, and widely noticed.
My own firm has had an equality targeting scheme for our management trainees for six years. Of the 87 management trainees who were on the programme in August, 19 were women (of whom five were from ethnic minorities) and 68 were men (of whom nine were from ethnic minorities). Among our younger trainee staff, 12% were from ethnic minorities and 16.5% were women. Among the overall construction staff of the company, excluding administration, 13% were women and 4.2% were from ethnic minorities. Two women sit on the executive of the group, and the Willmott Dixon "Constructive Women" group meets biannually. We advertise in the ethnic minority press and support bodies such as Women in Manual Trades and Oxford Women's Training Centre.