View from the boardroom: Investing in the next generation of homebuilders

As one of the largest residential developers in the UK, at Taylor Wimpey we employ over 3,800 people and provide job opportunities for an average of 11,000 subcontractors on our sites across the country. We are a national builder but operate locally bringing significant economic benefits to the areas in which we operate.

Housebuilding, and the whole construction industry in general, was badly affected during the recession. The market shrank considerably, and forced a large number of experienced workers to explore other industries. Since the start of 2013, things have certainly got better, however, the lack of investment in skills has been noticeable. This, combined with 19% of construction workers reaching retirement age within the next decade, means we as an industry have a huge gap to fill.

At Taylor Wimpey, we understand the need to invest today to ensure we have the right skills in the future. We are keen to nurture young talent and develop the next generation, through programmes like our graduate and management schemes, apprenticeships and, of course, excellent initiatives like Buckinghamshire University Technical College (Bucks UTC).

Unique concept

We receive many requests to support and sponsor educational initiatives across the country, however, when we were approached about a partnership with Bucks UTC we saw huge potential.

UTC was a new concept to us, and at the time still very new in the education sector. What particularly attracted us to Bucks UTC was its unique approach in integrating technical, practical and academic learning to create an environment where students can thrive and develop the abilities employers are looking for.

As part of our partnership with the UTC, we’ve been involved in the development of the college right from the beginning. One of the key aspects of our partnership is our ability as an industry leader and major local employer to help the college make sure that its students are ‘work ready’ through gaining practical knowledge in the working environment.

We were involved in developing the construction course curriculum, including advising the UTC on the type of qualifications that would be useful for us as a major local employer; underpinned by a planned year-long programme with the UTC to cover all aspects of the Taylor Wimpey business to fit with the qualification that the students are working towards.

We have also worked with the UTC teaching team to structure our employer projects so they focus on challenges that students could face in the actual working environment. For example, setting up a smaller version of a building site adjacent to one of our larger housing schemes in Aylesbury, so students can get experience as a real construction worker.

Our experienced regional teams guide the students through the whole process, from the health and safety induction and trades working on site, to surveying, site management and office based roles, demonstrating a whole spectrum of job opportunities available in the sector.

Another popular initiative involved our subcontractors, (who represent businesses in trade areas including brickwork, scaffolding, dry-lining, groundwork, plumbing, painting and decorating), participating in a business breakfast with the UTC students. It was a fantastic opportunity for the students to network and distribute their CVs. It was great to see the students showing their knowledge of what they had learnt so far in construction and make valuable contacts proactively and without prompting.

We have also been pleased to help in other areas such as sponsoring a mature female student who did not qualify for government funding to complete the course. This enabled her to study at Level 3 and to progress to University. We have also supplied all of the construction students with branded safety wear to enable them to work safely on site and be visible. In addition, we supplied a new minibus to help with logistics in getting construction students to and from our sites when completing their extended work experience projects and for other activities such as sports and school trips, as well as staging and lighting for the hall which were used for an excellent performance by the students to celebrate the end of year.

One of the highlights for me, personally, has been mentoring a team of construction students. For the last few months, I have been involved in supporting one of the two in-house ‘companies’ that the students have set up, sharing my business know-how gained through the many years in the industry. This initiative enables the students to build their knowledge on how a company structure works and the different roles within a management team as well as key principles of successful business management. Students earn positive and negative points for their company according to their attendance, performance, presentation and general work-readiness skills.

Putting theory into practice

So, from an employer’s point of view, what do UTCs bring to the education of young people? At UTCs, students have received a broad general education, complemented by an in-depth technical knowledge in their chosen specialism, and they understand the relevance of one to the other.

Their good academic and practical skills are valued equally. Even simple things like wearing business attire when at the college and experiencing working traditional 9-5 business hours – all help students to get more used to and be ready for the working world, compared to those in a typical school environment. Through technical skills learning, exposure to the industry and employers from day one, UTC students have an excellent understanding of their specialism and the career opportunities available, as well as what is expected of them in the workplace as they already have real experience of it. If they don’t want to go straight into work after completing their UTC course, then the technical and academic qualifications gained can take them into further or higher education if they wish.

One of the key aspects of our partnership with Bucks UTC is helping students put theory into practice through gaining practical knowledge in the working environment. To support that, we have taken on two construction course students on work experience placements. Originally we expected the first batch of students to be ready for their proper work placements at the end of the 2014-15 academic year; however, the two students made such great progress that, with the college, it was decided that it’s the right time for them to get into the business and finish their Level 3 qualification whilst working with us.

The placement will see the students in paid employment for three days a week and will be structured so that site experience is combined with some time based in the office to allow students to understand progress reports, build programmes, contractor vetting, pre-start and weekly report meetings. The students will also be supported by an experienced mentor who will act as a point of reference to enhance their experience. On successful completion of their work experience, the students will be given an opportunity to join our Site Management Apprenticeship Scheme at the end of Year 13 in July 2015, subject to achieving the necessary academic requirements and demonstrating strong work ethics.

Other similar opportunities for the most ambitious college students are currently being considered and, if successful, this could prove to be a great model of working in partnership with the UTC to identify and recruit the next generation of managers.

A partnership for success

Bucks UTC is a true success story. Despite the initial challenges in raising awareness of this new concept of education amongst parents and recruiting enough students to start the courses, it’s now growing from strength to strength, with over 170 students currently studying at the college.

We are very proud of our partnership with Bucks UTC as it has given us, as a company, a fantastic opportunity to help shape the future of the industry, making sure that we have the right skills, expertise and drive to meet the ever growing demand for new homes in the future.