Dr Vicky Hutchinson, ISG Head of Social Value
In the modern construction climate, it’s equally important to offer enduring social value to the communities in which we work, than it is to just deliver the innovative, eye-catching construction projects that transform them.
It’s all in our vision at ISG: to become the world’s most dynamic construction services company, delivering places that help people and businesses thrive.
The ‘helping people and businesses thrive’ element isn’t solely tied up in the spaces and buildings that we deliver – its foundations also lie in how our ground-breaking projects impact the communities that they touch, and the people that make up their rich fabric.
The social stamp that we, as a business, imprint on our communities is an aspect of our work that ISG takes seriously, so much so that we have developed industry-leading, game-changing solutions to ensuring that our work offers its communities, and the people that serve them, long-term value.
The Social Value Act came into being in 2012, requiring those who commission public services in England and Wales to think about how they can also secure wider social, economic and environmental benefits – meaning they must think about whether the services they are going to buy, or the way they are going to buy them, will secure these benefits for their area or stakeholders.
Since then, ISG has built a strategy not only rooted in supporting local communities with employment, skills development and investment in local businesses, but also empowering our people with the tools and opportunities they need to deliver social value in support of our always care value, and two of our corporate goals – driving revolutionary change in the construction industry and offering an unbeatable employment experience.
Additional demands in this area continue to come from our clients, public sector frameworks and local communities. We are committed to building dynamic legacy across our projects. And showcasing our capabilities in delivering strategic and valuable social value, results in fantastic benefits to the business, including working winning and repeat clients.
Taking the lead on addressing construction’s skills shortage
A core element of our social value offering lies in recruitment – an issue of vital importance in an industry with an increasing skills shortage. The shortage of talent across the board continues to impact the wider construction industry, but it is also something we need to address as a business if we are to grow and deliver on the number of projects ISG is delivering across the globe.
‘Modernise or die’ was the stark warning to the construction industry from the 2016 Farmer Review. As more people leave the industry each year than join it, the construction workforce is shrinking, placing increasing constraints on its capacity to build housing and infrastructure. However, there is little incentive for contractors to invest in long-term training when they are increasingly reliant on a fractured supply chain and self-employment. Figures from a 2016 YouGov poll also confirmed suspicions that school leavers and graduates do not view construction as an attractive career choice (the poll found that two-thirds of Britons wouldn’t consider a career in construction).
I believe this requires us to take action in three key areas.
Firstly, it’s crucial for us to encourage new entrants into the industry by promoting construction to young people and supporting them in their studies, so that they are well-equipped to progress into the sector. Secondly, we need to attract new employees by being a company that appeals to millennials – which means caring as much about people as we do about profit.
The last area involves retaining the people we have by ensuring that they are rewarded and fulfilled in their roles.
Our responsibility extends to plugging the skills gaps experienced by our supply chain, gaps which affect their businesses – and in turn, ours – due to the knock-on effects on availability, prices and quality of work.
In order to ensure that our supply chain has the talent it needs to flourish, demonstrating leadership and promoting the value in continued skill development is vital. This is something we can achieve by encouraging our suppliers to recruit apprentices, while communicating the value in upskilling their current workforces.
More than this, businesses like ours are reliant on propelling the industry to the skill level it requires, and we’re responsible for changing the conversation around pursuing a career in construction.
Another skills area we are focusing on is around supporting hard to reach groups, such as ex-offenders, ex-servicemen, the homeless, young unemployed people and the socially-isolated older age bracket. Through local partnerships we are investing the time and effort to provide them with the support, skills and links they need to embark on their careers. Although an important investment, it’s critical to remember that these types of partnerships don’t always pay off and can be a challenge to successfully reach these people and make a significant impact.
One example of where we are making strides on this commitment is our new UK partnership with The Princes Trust, a charity which helps young people who are unemployed or struggling in education, to transform their lives.
Rather than fundraising for the Trust, we have focused our partnership on skill-based volunteering and sharing our people's knowledge and expertise to empower young people with the education, training and skills they need to be successful. It is also a fantastic opportunity for us to directly address the industry skills shortage, while giving our people the opportunity to volunteer and give back to their communities.
By contracting with social enterprises, we can support skills and employment indirectly. One example is our project to replace the track at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, awarded via the North West Construction Hub Medium Value Framework. We engaged with Community Wood Recycling (CWR) network and appointed Emerge, a social enterprise who could upcycle the track. The timber was made into various products including benches, tables and picture frames, with Olympic cyclists, Laura and Jason Kenny, signing many of the items. Emerge raised over £10k from the sale of the timber, which was invested in creating further local opportunities. In particular, one local unemployed individual was given a permanent part-time job and two other volunteers were registered for further training. Emerge seeks to employ paid or voluntary members of the local community, including students and individuals with learning or behavioural difficulties, providing local work, training and personal development.
Getting involved in these areas means we can make a difference in key community projects and initiatives, while also positively impacting employee recruitment and retention, by providing avenues for people to make their mark in the communities in which we work.
Measuring our social value impact
But how can we measure exactly what impact our work is making in terms of its social value impact?
This is the question that our business, in partnership with leading technology company, Social Profit Calculator, has answered with the development of our innovative, ground-breaking social profit calculator tool – a unique way of providing customers with a means of accurately measuring the social value activities undertaken throughout the delivery of their project.
A data-driven approach now gives us the ability to transform the quality of our reporting and, in turn, our customer experience, while the potential to analyse the social value success of previous projects ensures we can strategically plan future work and continue to learn from experience.
Earlier this year, I was invited to Whitehall to present our work in measuring social value impact to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The policy advisers were interested to hear whether the same approach could be adopted by institutions and individuals to guide their investments.
What’s next for ISG?
As I mentioned earlier, education and skills development represents a crucial thread in the ISG social value tapestry – resulting in us launching the UK’s first Level 3 Applied Diploma in Professional Construction Practice (PCP) in partnership with WJEC in September 2018. We are looking to create a lasting method of attracting young people into construction and empowering them with the skills they need to craft a successful career in the industry.
The qualification represents the equivalent UCAS points of an A-Level and provides a contemporary insight into modern construction management practices, focusing on the technologies, behaviours and innovation that support the delivery of world-class and iconic buildings.
Not only does this qualification complement the Government’s plans to introduce major reforms to the post-16 technical education system in England, it also supports the recently-launched review of post-18 education and funding. The Government is now seeking evidence on topics including how to support young people in making effective choices between academic, technical and vocational routes after 18 and how best to support education outcomes that deliver the skills the UK needs.
We also believe that the PCP could be the pipeline through which the industry starts to address the gender imbalance in our workforce; statistics show that less than 7% of students on construction courses in Further Education in 2015/16 were female (according to the CITB’s ‘Destinations of Construction Learners in Further Education’ in June 2017).
As a business we will be focused on developing this course as it takes shape, and how we do that will educate and inspire not only the next generation of construction leaders, but the buildings and communities that will define our future.
With our work in providing lasting social value through our projects, we are not only demonstrating our commitment to living the breadth of our values and corporate goals, but proving that ISG is also changing the construction conversation.