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Working towards a fairer industry for all

Posted: 4th September 2013

Chrissi McCarthy
Managing Director of Constructing Equality Ltd

Working in the built environment sector can be a fascinating experience with the chance to: - test your skills on a large scale; work with a constantly changing array of new people; and leave a mark on the world.

Unfortunately though, as the economic climate continues to look bleak, the experience of working in the industry has become an increasingly stressful one with long working hours, salary freezes and dubious payment practices for sub-contractors - both consultants and trades.

Companies trying to address some of these concerns have found that they can be at odds with the requirements of PQQ and tender lists and therefore find themselves having to put the short-term goals of the company (winning work and delivering) ahead of its long-term needs (creating a happy qualified workforce). An example of this being where project clauses ask sub-contractors to take on x number of apprentices for a specific project with the focus on getting local people into jobs; it’s not uncommon for the same company to work on another job 30 miles down the road to the same requirement leaving the company with the choice of: -not fulfilling the requirement (hopefully with a sympathetic client); having too many apprentices to adequately train; or, the more common scenario of letting the first group go less than a year into their contract.

These are challenges that affect the sector as a whole and as the industry struggles to attract the numbers of bright ambitious people that it needs, let alone provide them with the opportunities they need to develop early on in their careers, it’s only a challenge that will increase.

I strongly believe that in order for industry to overcome these challenges we have to find a way to work together to overcome these issues - by standing together as a sector and producing a solution to these challenges we should be able to help our clients to create a legacy that lasts longer than the duration of the project under construction and helps strengthen our industry at the same time.

This is where the CITB Be Fair Framework (Built Environment Fairness Inclusion and Respect Framework) comes in. Designed in consultation with the sector, by people who have worked within in it, the framework makes a number of major assumptions about the sector - of course these might not be true for everyone, but research shows us that they do reflect the majority of the industry: -

  • Client procurement has a massive impact on fairness, inclusion and respect within the sector.
  • There is a lack of understanding from both clients and the industry around fairness, inclusion and respect and how to overcome the complex challenges it presents.
  • The challenges around people in the sector are incredibly complex due to factors like project-based and global working, nepotistic culture and stereotypical roles.
  • Overall as a sector we fail to attract and retain key talent in the numbers required.
  • The needs of a small consultant differ vastly from those of a large main contractor.
  • To become a diverse and equal workforce we need to create and maintain a fair working environment for those currently working in the sector.

“Felt the framework had real structure and focus. It felt very practical where other frameworks have felt more like a tick box – this didn’t” Vinci plc.

(Gemma Concannon)

By understanding these and other challenges the framework design can create a tool that can start to bring change to the sector in a way that is affordable, sustainable, long-term and in line with public sector procurement. Breaking the industry down into 18 different strands such as Consultant (large, medium and micro), Client (public and private sector), Main Contractor (large, medium, small and micro) and Sub-contractor (medium, small and micro) enables the framework to be written as action plans including support documents for each organisation in a language that can be understood and with tools that are familiar.

Split over four levels the framework is a learning tool that pushes you towards excellence. At the first level (Bronze) you are not asked what you are doing, instead you are directed towards what you should be doing and given the tools to do it. At the second level (silver), you are still directed and given the tools, but this time you are encouraged to do more. At the third level (gold), you should have a good idea about what fairness, inclusion and respect entails and you are now expected to be able to apply these principles to your business, showing us the best way forward. The fourth and final level (platinum) is your chance to show how your company is leading the field.

Already the framework has attracted attention from over 148 companies in the sector with over 110 now signed up on the on the pilot, feedback has been encouraging.

Because CITB and Constructing Equality have invested in the framework as a “greater good” product, it has meant that we are able to offer the industry options that other sectors don’t have; which if successful should mean our industry beginning to lead on this agenda.

In the CITB Be Fair Framework we have an opportunity to show how as an industry we can both deal with the challenges we face and also lead in this area, ensuring that we show our clients and stakeholders what is right for the talent we already have as well as how we can attract and nurture the professionals of tomorrow.

Contributor: Before starting Constructing Equality Ltd., Chrissi McCarthy spent more than 10 years at the forefront of the construction industry, first as a Setting Out Engineer and then a Site Manager. A Construction Management graduate and member of the Chartered Institute of Building, she played an integral role in the delivery of numerous projects, including Peckham Library, Manchester Interchange, a range of BSF Schemes, and a school in Uganda for charity. Today, Chrissi is part of the Fairness Inclusion and Respect Strategic Group that leads the industry on diversity. She holds lectures on diversity and equality at Universities and conferences, writes for leading construction publications, contributes to Government papers, influences key industry figures, and has even spoken at the House of Lords. Importantly, while her achievements are diverse, they share a common thread – to improve the reality of working within construction and its reputation among the public.

You can find out more about her via on Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest