It’s not just the young people on The Prince’s Trust training programmes who benefit – companies that support The Trust can enjoy a whole lot more than a warm glow

‘We’re long past the days when the business world thought charities were struggling little things,’ says Elaine Radford, head of corporate social responsible at law firm DLA Piper. ‘Some still are but The Prince’s Trust is very well organised and works in a very structured way.’

Like all of the companies that are involved in its Get Into Construction training programme, DLA Piper has found that supporting The Trust is far from a one-way street. Certainly all the companies that have got involved say they’ve got more from it than just the warm glow that comes from supporting a good cause. The unique selling point of The Trust’s Get Into Construction programme is that it was set up with the express intention of solving the industry’s biggest headache - the desperate need for skills. But those involved have found wider benefits have included building relationships with clients, winning work, motivating staff and enhancing their reputations.

DLA Piper is a patron of The Prince’s Trust, donating £25,000 a year. It has been involved with the charity for a decade, offering pro bono legal work and business advice to the young entrepreneurs The Trust supports through its other schemes. Since the idea of Get Into Construction first occurred two years ago, the firm has used its network of relationships in the industry to encourage members to join the leadership group and help shape the programme. ‘It’s a virtuous circle almost, which is why it has been so amazingly successful,’ says Radford. To date, The Trust has run 27 courses to prepare disadvantaged young people to work in construction, and 75% have moved on to start careers in the industry.

Over the last two years, members of the Construction and Business Services Leadership Group have been helping to develop every aspect of the programme from scratch, enjoying a freedom and responsiveness that’s been notably lacking in other training initiatives for the industry. ‘We talk about what’s relevant so they can tailor the programme,’ explains Andrew Heath-Richardson, project executive at the Canary Wharf Group, another member of the group. ‘You can feel you’re making a difference, your comments mean something. It’s not death by committee; things actually seem to change.’

For Canary Wharf Group, Get Into Construction filled a gap in its own business. Heath-Richardson says the company knew it needed to do something to increase the supply of skilled workers but had found the 4 4 administration of an in-house apprenticeship scheme too much of a burden. ‘We wanted to support something that actually had a structure so it becomes easier to administer. Any training scheme can take a long time to develop – by the time you’ve got the scheme up and running, you’re in a trough again and there’s no work; by the time you peak again, you’re too busy. By signing up to this you buy into an established scheme and people benefit immediately.’

Scheme meets corporate goals

Many of the leadership group companies say they got involved because the scheme coincided with their own corporate goals. ‘It was quite obvious straight away that this gave us a good opportunity to contribute to improving the lives of young people. What The Trust was planning was what we were looking to achieve so we dived straight in,’ says Tim Sharp, director of corporate communications at Balfour Beatty, and a member of the business development committee for Get Into Construction.

Mike Peasland, Balfour Beatty’s group managing director is also on the main steering committee, chaired by Philip Rogerson of Carillion. ‘It gives us a new source of skills and expertise,’ he says. ‘Clearly there is a terrific demand for people to work in the industry, and the traditional sources of employees are used up. There’s more than enough work; what there is a shortage of is people.’

Sharp says working with The Trust has also been of a personal benefit. ‘The capacity to reach these young people who have problems is very rewarding. When you meet people who’ve been through the course and are starting jobs, it gives them an income, self-respect and a sense of pride.’

So far, Balfour Beatty has been helping to establish the scheme but now it’s up and running, Sharp says the next step is to find opportunities for its graduates on Balfour Beatty projects and with its suppliers. He’s also in discussions about leading a Get Into Construction programme in Scotland.

But it’s not just the big contractors that can contribute to The Trust’s work. Rydon Construction is a £190m turnover business based in the South, and its group marketing director Peter Robertson has been on the leadership group for about two years. ‘What appealed in particular was that we’d experienced a relatively high failure rate in identifying young people to work on our own construction projects. The Get Into Construction course identified those candidates who have the right aptitude, and the training assists them in preparing for employment. If we provide opportunities to people who have come through that programme, the chances are they will remain in employment, and that’s successful for the sector.’

Unlike The Trust’s larger supporters like Carillion and Balfour Beatty, Rydon doesn’t have opportunities for the course’s graduates across the country. But it has been working with its partners to make the most of the opportunities it has, linking training programmes to specific projects to provide a ready supply of labour and long-term opportunities.

There are two regeneration projects it is looking at, one in Sutton and one on the Packington Estate in Islington, with Hyde Housing Group, which could last up to eight years. Robertson hopes the plan will come to fruition later in the year. ‘This is not a charitable initiative,’ he adds. ‘There is a real business benefit to it.’

Knock-on benefits

There have also been less obvious, but no less valuable, knock-on benefits. Radford says DLA Piper has found its work with The Trust has strengthened relationships with clients, and potential clients. ‘We’ve been able to develop relationships in a new and dynamic way, and work more closely with the industry as a direct consequence of this initiative. It’s given us a real opportunity to enhance those relationships.’

For the first two-week course in June 2006, there was a 100% success rate and DLA Piper decided to celebrate it by holding a ceremony at their offices. ‘We invited clients and construction firms from around the industry, and we got some very senior people coming along.’

Radford has also enjoyed the wider networking opportunities that being a patron of The Trust offers. It holds a number of events throughout the year, which are very well attended. At its Celebrate Success event in London in March, superstars Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey and other celebratory ambassadors were among the guests. Radford recently enjoyed a technology event where Bill Gates was the speaker. ‘It does give you access to some remarkable people and some very interesting events,’ he says.

Of course, working with such a prestigious and proactive charity does help to give some meat to your corporate social responsibility strategy - something companies are finding an increasingly important differentiator. ‘We talk constantly and with great passion about our commitment to giving something back, and this really excels from that perspective,’ says Radford. ‘There aren’t many instances where you can have that strength of identification around something of this nature. We hope in five years’ time we’ll be looking at really significant numbers of people.’

‘Writing a cheque is the easy bit’ – Adrian Ewer, chief executive of John Laing, explains why his company supports The Prince’s Trust

We first got involved 18 months ago as a patron of the Prince’s Trust. The John Laing Charitable Trust will provide £25,000 over three years. But writing a cheque is the easy bit – it’s not doing anything physical and you’re not deriving any business benefit from it.

Construction is a practical thing so for disadvantaged kids, be they young offenders or educational underachievers, it’s something tangible and practical they can relate to. It’s a win win. It’s a good thing for the youngsters, and it’s a good thing for the sector. There’s the social element of doing the right thing for them and on the business side, it’s providing a pool of talent and skills.

We’re not a construction company so we can’t ourselves provide training for learning joinery, electrics, plumbing, but we can encourage our partners to do that. What we do is use our skills in mentoring youngsters or helping them learn how to write CVs. About 40 of our staff are involved with The Prince’s Trust.When we launched it two years ago, people thought I was off my trolley but now they lap it up. I think it’s in people – they like to help.

The Prince’s Trust is one of the things that really gets people engaged, especially when you hear the case studies of the young people who’ve benefited. You get kids who’ve really been on the heap, young offenders, troublemakers at school. They go through the programme, they get some pride and feel worthwhile.

As a corporate, we have a social responsibility to create employment and opportunity. Our public sector clients expect it too. We deliver schools, hospitals, libraries, police stations, social housing – our business is all about regeneration in communities. The Prince’s Trust is one big way in which we can actively deliver a service.

When your local council or education authority are looking at bids which are all deliverable and economic, if you can say ‘by working with us the local community will benefit’, it does give you an edge. One of our bidding teams in Hounslow is working with The Trust on what job opportunities we can create in the delivery of services.

The Prince’s Trust gives us an opportunity for team building too, with the Challenge Events that they do. It might be a physical challenge like white water rafting or going out to the Namibia Desert. There’s a fundraising element to it too, so it’s about more than what members of the team get out of it.

It doesn’t cost a lot of money, it’s not about money, this is about doing something direct.

How you can get involved

Step one Become a member

To join the Construction and Business Services Leadership Group, your business will need to commit to giving £15,000 a year for three years to support The Trust

Or become a patron

Each patron commits to invest at least £25,000 a year in The Trust’s work for at least four years. Patrons are acknowledged in The Trust’s annual review, and will have access to exclusive events, networking opportunities and commercial associations. You can also become a silver, gold or platinum patron, with additional benefits at each level. The Prince’s Trust notes that its president, HRH The Prince of Wales, is known to take a keen interest in its leading supporters.

Step two Take it further

Members can support the Get Into Construction programme by providing onsite introduction days or work placements for young people on the course, or apprenticeships or work opportunities once they've graduated. Linking programmes to company projects will help young people find employment or training after the programme. Your staff could support programme participants by presenting to them on the construction industry. You could also attend graduation ceremonies with key staff and subcontractors to reward their hard work.

Your staff could support The Trust and take part in team building activities through its UK and International Challenge Events, and there are opportunities for personal development via the Team Programme, Challenge 500 and Enterprise Project.

Members could add value to the Construction & Business Services Leadership Group by introducing new members, serving on a committee when vacancies arise and explore opportunities to use Trust-supported businesses.