Construction and the black and minority ethnic communities

This week Panorama showed a programme called “Jobs for the boys”, which considered findings that young African men were twice as likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. We were interviewed for the programme and gave advice on seeking positions in construction from the black minority ethnic communities. As it was only a half hour program not all of the advice we gave made it to the final edit so we felt a blog with further information might be of use.
Please note: this is a large and complicated area so do additional research into factors that may affect you.

Firstly, there are internal and external factors to consider. Internal factors are the things you do personally that might stand in the way of you getting a job and external factors are the things that create barriers for companies that are beyond your control. Internal factors can be due to your background, culture, community, etc., and can affect how you feel, hold and present yourself. One example is how you communicate. Consider that up to 83% of communication is reliant on non-verbal cues (proximity, eye contact, touch) and cultures can be very picky about the rules.  For example, a study found that Italians touched over 200 times in an hour when having a conversation, whereas the British just two to three. So if someone British was talking to someone Italian they might feel uncomfortable with the amount of touching whilst the Italian might find their British friend to be cold and unfriendly. This gives you an example of how the way you walk, talk and hold yourself can have a massive impact on getting a job – we know that most people make their decision subconsciously within seconds of someone walking through the door, so make sure your body language mimics what they are expecting.

Externally there are also barriers…..
Both construction and ethnic status are not as simple as they first look; barriers to construction for example, will depend upon what area of the industry you are looking to get into. The trades (the actual work of laying bricks, cladding buildings, etc.) mostly recruit people they know, which means if they mostly know white British people, they will mostly employ them.  On the other hand finding a job within the professions (Quantity surveyor, architects, site managers etc), where bigger firms often rule the roost, can be easier for minority groups to access than the trades, but promotion and a welcoming environment, once inside, can be a bigger challenge.
Black or minority ethnic status is also a dependant factor, as stereotypes and challenges differ between one group and another. Factors such as religion, skin colour, language, name, and family responsibility could have an impact on the way you are perceived which, whilst it shouldn’t, can create a barrier.  In construction we have heard “Asian kids don’t want to work in construction as they all want to be doctors” and “all the Irish are good for is ground-working”.  Unfortunately we have also heard far more offensive stereotypes (it should be noted not only in construction)  but I don’t want to reinforce them by writing them down.  The point is, clumping together issues around race isn’t always helpful, instead what I shall do is give some advice on what you might want to consider when applying for a job.

Please acknowledge that, in writing this, what I feel is right and wrong is irrelevant.  This is based upon challenges we know you might face and what can be done to work with the way things are – it is up to you to decide what feels right for you: –

What to do
 
Your CV – This should be about getting you through the door; interview stage is where you can wow with your brilliance. At CV stage companies are looking to see if you have the basic requirements but there are other factors that can hinder your chances of making the sift – your ethnicity is sometimes linked to the assumption that English will be a second language and then the further assumption that if it is a second language you will not be skilled enough in it – therefore you need to set out your stall.
Your name – Some employers in the UK are more likely to employ someone with a traditionally British name; we hear and have seen research on this from large and small companies and, as a workaround, people have been known to employ a British nickname to get them through to the interview stage.

Your spelling – Linked with language assumptions above – make sure you do all you can to challenge this perception where it might occur; people will be hypersensitive to your spelling and grammar and what my white (albeit Irish) name will get away with, yours might not.  Again it’s not fair that we have to work around these issues – but that’s why I’m writing this blog in the first place and trying to bring about change.

Your language – Cultures can have different approaches   to showing respect. So where in the UK we are somewhat more reserved, friends from Uganda and Northern India who now work in the UK can be somewhat more enthusiastic when applying for roles – exclaiming that they would “love the chance to work for such a brilliant, amazing and fantastic organisation”. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be seen as false and, consequently, weakens your application.
What to look out for
 
Also, companies that work for the public sector are subject to different legislations and are therefore, not only more open to employing people from none white British communities, but also have further support in place to develop their careers.
Where to go
 
These organisations can help: –
    • Stephen Lawrence Trust
    • Princes Trust
    • Youth Build Bradford

If anyone sees this as useful let us know and next week we will write about the interview stage next week.

Happy Building,
ChrissiFor all things construction and equality, get yourself over to the Constructing Equality Ltd. website.

2 comments:

  1. I FIND YOUR COMMENTS INSIGHTFUL AND RIGHT ON THE MARK. GIVE MORE.

Constructing Equality Ltd. Newsletter survey feedback…

At Constructing Equality Ltd. we are always on the look-out to improve our business and services, as well as the news that we deliver in our monthly newsletter and weekly blogs.
 

Sponsored by CITB, the newsletter now has over 6,000 subscribers, and is the leading source of trusted information on diversity and equality in construction. It is a simple way to keep abreast of the latest news and articles, as well as current trends and best practice within the
sector. In turn, its aim is to provide our readers with lots of links to useful sites and stories, and we also include job opportunities from around the sector.

We recently asked our readers and subscribers to participate in a short survey that would enable improve the newsletter and feature more of the stories and articles that are relevant to our readers.
 
To begin with we asked participants to give their opinion on what they thought of the newsletter content in general:

‘’The newsletter has greatly improved with the redesign, however it could be improved further by shortening the articles and giving readers a “read more” option – there is so much great content but it can look overwhelming at first glance.’’ – Anonymous. 

This is a very positive response; 96% of participants were happy with the general content of the newsletter. The 4% that selected ‘other’ simply expressed their opinion towards the presentation of the newsletter; an issue that is being dealt with currently with the design team and the host website.

Participants were then asked to be more specific in what they like to see in the newsletter, the following results were found:
The most popular sources of information are news, case studies and best practice examples. As a result of this we have identified a need to increase the amount of best practice case studies that are featured in the newsletter each month. We are now taking a more proactive approach to ensure that at least two industry best practice articles are included in every newsletter.
As part of this process we try and cover a wide range of case studies from a vast array of different organisations within the sector. It is for this reason that we encourage organisations and individuals to send in case studies that they feel will be of benefit to the industry and the reader alike.
One important issue that we are currently working towards a remedy for is the format of the newsletter. As some people may know, Constructing Equality Ltd. went through a re-branding later last year and as part of that re-branding we also changed the layout and design of the newsletter. Although we have had some technical difficulties the overall feedback of this has been very positive.
The additional comments around length of articles will be addressed in the next newsletter by shortening the length of articles and including a ‘read more’ option as suggested. It has also been agreed that articles will generally be around 250 – 300 words in length and must not exceed 400 words.
In addition to providing the industry with construction specific equality and diversity news, resources and opportunities, one of the reasons the newsletter is created every month is to provide people and organisations with beneficial sources of information that they may not know about previously; this can range from providing people with job opportunities to making organisations aware of funding prospects.
To better understand what resources people consider to be the most beneficial, we asked participants to select how they feel the newsletter benefits them:
As part of the newsletter we have a monthly quiz that allows readers to answer three short questions that are topical to the newsletter articles of that month. The quiz also offers participants a chance of winning a £20 high street voucher. Just like the newsletter itself we understand the need to continually improve the quiz, one way in which we intend do this is by improving the content quality.
Those that answered ‘no’ provided responses that generally followed a pattern of wanting the quiz to count towards some form of continual professional development (CPD). This is something we are taking very seriously and currently we are in talks with various institutes to see how we can improve the quality and value of the quiz questions so that they prompt research and investigation by the reader but also provide a degree of CPD. We aim to have this firmly in place by September 2013. If you would like us to get in touch with your institute to include the quiz as CPD then please contact Kyle.
Overall we are very happy with the feedback and positive responses we received around the newsletter and would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every person that took the time to fill out the survey; all feedback received is taken very seriously and used to develop our services further.
If you disagree with the changes we are making or would like to add your own feedback the survey is still open via Survey Monkey. Alternatively you can emailKyle with any feedback you feel that will improve this resource.

 

Welfare, construction and why it’s not about scroungers…

Between the bedroom tax, cost of living and the media showcasing of extreme examples of people taking advantage of the system, welfare has developed a bit of a bad reputation at the moment. People who are struggling to make ends meet, whilst holding down jobs, are questioning why others only have to sit in front of the telly all day and receive benefits that, if you read the daily mail, will keep you in the lap of luxury.Between political infighting, using benefits as a weapon to showcase how badly the last party dealt with things and the media’s recognition of public hunger for people to name and shame, I can’t help but feel it’s all gotten a little out of hand.  That maybe we need to step back, take the emotion out of it and consider why benefits exist in the first place – and what value are they to those of us that work in the construction industry.

Firstly, I support the benefit system – I know that 0.02% of claims are fraudulent and whilst I would prefer that that number was zero, no system is perfect and constantly flouting small flaws as a means of undermining an entire system won’t get anyone anywhere.

Whilst the media has encouraged us to look at those who claim benefits as work-shy scroungers there is a bigger picture and it includes me and you. In a transient, project-based industry that is now predominantly dependent on self-employment, labour gaps in employment can be frequent and, occasionally, long. Many save for the low periods but that’s not always enough to get by, especially when there are commitments and dependants to keep. The benefits help to cover that gap; they mean that you don’t fall at the first hurdle in the down-period, but instead, have the chance to pick yourself up and carry on.  They mean that people do not have to sell the tools of their livelihood to get by and that makes it a little easier to get back to work – it also means that when we, as an industry, need the workforce they are ready to start.

I know a few people who feel they are owed a living by the state, but the majority of people I know will avoid benefits till the last moment, only to find that when they do claim (out of necessity not apathy) they are vilified and made to feel somehow unworthy, which is not conducive to raising self-esteem and helping people to win work.

Let’s try and appreciate the scaremongering of Benefits from a different perspective -what if it is simply a political smokescreen to stop us talking about Starbucks not paying tax, or the media taking advantage of our desire to prove we are better than other people. If these things are true we need to fight for, and protect, our benefit system by refusing to further accept the myths that are sold alongside the welfare state.  Instead we should be proud of our heritage of helping those most in need and look at ways of getting people back into work.

Make no mistake, if the system is allowed to degrade in this manner, it is not just the fabled work-shy scroungers that will suffer; it is society as a whole.

Happy building,

Chrissi

For all things construction and equality, get yourself over to the Constructing Equality Ltd. website.

3 comments:

  1. Unfortunately people are being conditioned by the media and government officials into believing that all people on welfare are scroungers. Thankfully the majority of people out there are too intelligent to be conditioned by such nonsense and fully understand the need for a benefit system that helps those in need.
    By Wendy Danks

    Reply

  2. Chrissi.
    I fully agree with you on this one.
    I have been in the trade for 40years and as such have seen many recessions, what is not considered is that after each recession we lose a large percentage of trades,they just do not come come back to our industry. And can you blame them, we as an industry do nothing to help them, they are thrown onto the dole, as they have no option, and they then have to suffer that indignation.But god alone knows how they would look after and feed there families if this option was not available.
    Not everybody is a scrounger, but its a hell of a knock for any proud man to take.
    The systems need to be brought up to date, but it is a system we need so lets push to have it streamlined and modernised to meet the needs of the people that really do deserve it.
    By Ronald Pye

    Reply

  3. Too True,I myself only claimed this year after being made redundant,what a horrid experience!How anyone can live on what is an absolute pittance,is beyond me I went from £68K plus bonus etc to £56.00 a week, then had to wait 9 weeks for the money. It goes to show you what those people who man those places mindset is,when they say “you could not have earned that much”! Well when I produced my wage slips it was a different story.But the best and funniest part was when they sent me to learn how to write my CV,just like “Pauline s Pens”Superb waste of my life as well as resource. I have now found employment and would not wish Job Centre Plus on anyone! Why do we not raid the Bankers and the ideal rich;s accounts like Cyprus,those S–S do not give a stuff about anyone but themselves,where is there “Big Society”Nowhere!

    Reply

     

What is the business case for diversity in the built environment?

There are a number of reasons why considering diversity is good for your business these include:
  • To prevent legislative costs,
  • To reap the benefits of employing a diverse team,
  • To increase success on public sector tenders,
  • To create a more supportive working environment.
When considering the business case you really need to think about what area of the business you are focusing on and what the business case means to you for example do you value the bottom line, employee retention or productivity as a priority?
The research is stronger in some areas than others for example women on strategic boards is an area currently receiving a lot of attention due to the Davies report and the direction France, Spain and Norway have taken with regards to quotas. The wonderful catalyst has also been doing great work for 50 years this year looking at the benefits of gender equality.
Yet diversity isn’t all about gender, what about people from different ethnic and religious communities or those who for some other reason experience life in a different way to the majority? In construction there hasn’t been too much research looking at a tangible business argument though there is research from outside of the sector.
The current research suggests that there is an argument for diversity when it is well managed and understood. Unfortunately a badly thought through strategy can have a negative impact on your business which is why I would always advise clients to avoid undertaking a tick box approach – it’s likely to cost you more in the long run.
The idea behind the business model is that you should be attracting a diverse workforce not to predominantly “do the right thing” or “ensure fairness for all” but in fact to strengthen your productivity and bottom line. Here are some examples of how diversity can be a positive to your organisation.
Become an employer of choice.
 
For minorities in construction, the support they will receive from their employer is an important factor in choosing who they will work for. It therefore stands to reason that if you can promote high retention rates and support services, you will find more interest from not only minorities but the top end of the workforce in general. A series of surveys by Target Jobs in 2008 into construction found work life balance and development opportunities to be the most important factors in deciding upon an employer.
Improve business performance
 
Here it’s important to note that the research suggests that a well-managed group of diverse employees will improve your productivity and profit in a number of ways which include mirroring your client base, having a wider pool of experience and creativity and being able to tap into more networks. But if the group is not well managed, the same cannot be said.
Change appears to happen at strategic level when there are more than three women on a board; in fact a US study of fortune 500 companies found that those with 3+ women on the board all reported significantly stronger than average profits.
At tactical level research has found that diverse groups outperform more capably homogeneous groups, which backs up the theory that different experiences provide us with different viewpoints and solutions.
Retain knowledge and experience
 
Research into diversity in construction suggests that more could have been done to stop the majority of women leaving the construction industry. What’s more compelling is the amount of money that could have been saved if we had. A 2009 government report “Engaging for success: enhancing performance through employee engagement.” put the cost of replacing an employee roughly equivalent to their salary, once training, corporate knowledge and intellectual capita are considered. The same report found that committed employees are 87% less likely to leave their organisations than those less engaged; they also perform 20% better. Instead of thinking can we afford to support our staff? Isn’t it time we started to question if we can afford not to?
Skills Shortage
 
The latest skills survey from the CIOB finds 72% of respondents felt there was still a skills shortage. Without recruiting from the entire selection pool we are not only failing to meet demand for numbers but also failing to find the best candidates for the roles available. Increasingly a number of smaller studies have found that young men are also avoiding construction due to its macho image and male dominance. In short, to ensure that we encourage the best recruits, we need to offer the most appealing, diverse and professional environment.
Meet procurement standards and stakeholder requirements
 
Public authorities need to meet the equality duties of The Equality Act 2010 and more importantly, so do their subcontractors. With 60% of current work coming from this sector that’s big news for contractors. By being able to align your organisation to the needs of your client you are putting yourself in a solid position to win more work.
With a large percentage of women and minorities now making procurement decisions for public sector work they want to see themselves represented in your workforce, so if all you have to offer is middle aged white men, it might not be enough.
Happy building, Chrissi

For all things construction and equality, get yourself over to the Constructing Equality Ltd. website.

2 comments:

  1. Chrissy,
    Very nobel sentiments but I am afraid the ‘bottom line’ is the critical element. This must be positive or no business of any description. To enable to business to function you need work but I have yet to find the way to pick and choose what work you do. You do the work you can get by whatever means, as astutely as you can and if you can afford some nobel aspirational choices that is fine and may auger well for the future when you would hope to repeat them. But then you are back to what work you can obtain and making a profit.

    Reply

    Replies

    1. HI CHRISSY,
      I THINK THIS SITE AND YOUR RESEARCH IS GREAT AND REALLY NEEDED IN AUSTRALIA FROM WORKING IN CONSTRUCTION, CIVIL AND MINING FOR 20 YEARS COMBINED, I HAVE TRAVELLED, MET FANTASTIC WORK MATES, BUT NEVER BEEN REALLY LOOKED AT FOR PROMOTION, UNLESS I TOOK TIME OUT TO TRAIN AND PAY MY OWN WAY FOR COURSES ECT. SOME USA BASED BIGGER COMPANIES HAVE A BETTER HANDLE ON THIS “THANK-GOODNESS” AUSSIES, CATCH UP WITH THE TIMES PLEASE AND REMOVE THAT “GLASS CEILING” ATTITUDE AND MAKE FOR A MORE BALANCED INDUSTRY.
      CHEERS
      JODY WILSON

The middle management minority; using the 6 principles of project management to progress your career.

This blogs borrows from the PRINCE2 seven principles of project management blogged about by projectmanuk; it shall attempt to put the emotional aspects of your career to the side in order to help you progress and achieve your ambitions and goals. It is particularly aimed at minority groups, as they are significantly more likely to face challenges in their work life.  But that being said, the principles can also be applied to a career less likely to face these challenges – quite often the people who would be best placed to lead organisations don’t do so because they place organisational improvement before individual politics; in this circumstance nearly everyone misses out.
  1. Business justification:
Consider your career as a range of short-term projects
·         Undergraduate to graduate,
·         Traineeship to chartered,
·         Chartered to senior, etc.
Then work out how what is required to get you there, how much this will cost and what additional time you will need to put in. Compare this to the return on your investment – and by return I don’t just mean the average salary you are likely to make, but also the value you place on doing your job, the experiences it will give you and the opportunities it will open up. Keep a check on this at certain key points in your career as circumstances can change, ensure you’re are getting what you need and reassess if you are not. If your career is no longer worth the investment it might be worth finding out why and possibly moving firms or changing careers.
  1. Defined roles and responsibilities:
Find out exactly what your job role entails and what the job above you requires. Check yourself against your ability to undertake these tasks. Don’t wait for an internal appraisal be proactive so that when your appraisal does come around, you can justify why you think you are ready for that promotion or rise. If the promotion comes around before you have ticked all the boxes still put yourself forward if you have 60% complete. If nothing else it will give you good experience, but being able to show how you have taken hold of your own development, and the skills you have learned over a given period, can prove that you have what is required to do the job even if you’re are not 100% fighting fit. Also, find out the roles of your managers – I don’t advise that you poke a bear with a stick by pointing out where your managers are going wrong, but rather help where you can – show you are an asset that will move the company forward. In short, make sure you really are doing your job and push to achieve the skills you will need for a promotion. Most importantly, make sure people know about it otherwise there really is very little point – I don’t know about you, but I’m too busy trying to manage my own life to be able to notice every detail of someone else’s.
  1. Manage by exception:
Learn to trust your colleagues and sub-contractors whilst still holding them accountable for their work, in other words let go a little. No one will thank you for micro-managing, and at a professional level you shouldn’t have to. Rather, build relationships and trust and empower those around you to want to produce good work – you’ll be surprised how often people do when given the chance. This doesn’t mean you should be “soft”, if people don’t deliver hold them to account, ensure they redo work and let them know what is and isn’t acceptable – just don’t start a relationship with them as if you have already made up your mind that they will fail, or it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Make sure you record the results of your success; soft skill approaches like this can make managers seem “lucky” as there is no visible cause and effect – so show the long term gain in your approach by measuring how often your projects/contractors come in on time/budget/quality and present this to your managers at appraisal. As previously mentioned, they often only know what you tell them, so tell them more.
  1. Focus on skills:
Think about the skills you want to develop; realistically these should tie into your career plan. Working on the development of these skills can provide you with a way of talking about your development that avoids an emotional situation. For example, instead of talking about how you would have liked to have progressed further and feel unhappy that you haven’t, you can work to develop additional skills that will get you there and use the sum of these skills as evidence for promotion.
  1. Learn from experience:
Don’t risk making the same again and again no matter how unfair the situation might be; consider why certain aspects went well or badly, then incorporate the lessons learned into your approach to your next project. Humans have an amazing capacity to learn, but when it comes to repeating errors made during previous projects, we all too often fail to learn the lessons. If you are not being taken seriously or getting promotions, consider the message you are putting across, learn to manage upwards and sideways as well as down and don’t expect that anyone will notice what you have done just because you have done it.
  1. Tailor to suit the environment:
Understand how your boss and colleagues work tailor your approach. That doesn’t mean changing your personality, rather working to help them achieve their agendas. It can be too easy to base the world of work upon our own ethics of what is right and wrong; how people should and shouldn’t act – in reality, this is rarely the case – we all have our own moral compass and it’s surprising how much they differ.
The biggest problem with discrimination that two-thirds of minority groups in construction are likely to face is that we will never know about it. From unconscious bias to paternal instincts, discrimination rarely makes a grand entrance these days preferring instead to sneak about in the shadows having a subtle, but important, impact on a career that we don’t usually notice until we feel like it’s too late.
By taking firmer control of your career you can at least be sure you are guiding it in the right direction, and whilst this will not always enable you to overcome discrimination and bias, it will at least give you a way forward.

Why the Prompt Payment Code matters to people in the construction industry.

I have worked for a main contractor, sub-contractor and, for my sins, I married a PQS – so I’d like to think I have a bit of an idea around how late payments work – though, as always, I’m happy to be corrected.
In the worst case scenario main contractors retain money from sub-contractors so that they can invest/buy land.
“Evil main contractors!” I hear you say? Well no, not always. Whilst some companies do this as a business model, many are being forced back down a route that was abandoned in the early 2000’s due to client’s ever increasing pressure to reduce costs. This means profit margins are slashed and the retention of payment is the only way to make money.
Evil clients then? Well, again, not always; when everyone is submitting similar prices it can be hard to know that something should cost more. Also, the news is rife with stories about construction bid-rigging and cover-pricing. Although in industry we might know there is a big difference between these terms and clients have asked for a cover price on more than one occasion, localised clients don’t. This means there is an air of distrust and reasonable prices can be seen as a bit of a con.
Why does late payment matter to the people?
Quite a few reasons:
  • Sub-contractors have to wait up to three months to get paid, which can mean making staff redundant, but more likely moving to a self-employed model of work. Whilst there are up-sides to this for those who enjoy true self-employment, there is a dirty dark side. Harvey [1] found a large number of people working in construction were falsely self-employed, meaning they had no choice over the hours they worked (the same as a regular employee), but did not receive employee benefits such as holiday pay, sick pay and employment rights. In the very worst cases, the situation was used to pay people less than minimum wage.  This isn’t to say that this happens to everyone everywhere, but it does happen and late payments encourage that. As a site manager once said to me, “we once employed a team to supply and pour concrete for less than we could buy it with our own substantial discount – we really should have looked into that.”
  • As a site manager bad subbies would make my life very difficult, and it’s pretty likely that a underpaid, unfairly treated person is not going to be a pleasure to work with – the worse we treat people the worse they behave. Don’t believe me? Look at your own reactions – very few people can smile in the face of constant disadvantage; obviously I’m not including Preston fans. This means our lives are made increasingly difficult, subcontractors are harder to work with and yet we have the same, if not shorter, time frames to do it all in. Not exactly great for our blood pressure.
  • If, as often happens, a sub-contractor goes under due to late payments, someone is needed to come in last minute which is never easy to find, creating additional headaches and cost. Quite often, more cost than would have been saved if the subbie had been paid on time in the first place.
  • The image of the industry also slips again; stories of late payment, subbies going under and false self-employment create a bleak picture of the industry and of those who work in it, which ultimately feeds the client view.
Before anyone says this blog adds to the problem, I would disagree. The problem is that acceptance of late payment practices treats people as if they don’t have rights or an expectation of fairness. As a sector we must work together to eradicate these issues by first acknowledging they exist, then finding a way to overcome them. Whilst we are fragmented and apart, Clients cannot always see when a rogue contractor is bringing the sector down. By signing and adhering to a code of practice we can take the steps in the right direction.  And though no one is saying this will make the world better overnight, at least it won’t be pushing it further backward.
Happy Building, Chrissi.

For all things construction and equality; get yourself over to Constructing Equality Ltd.

1 comment:

  1. The situation will not get better without some sort of effective intervention. This need not be massively costly or take an age to bring about.

    On behalf of StreetwiseSubbie and the Nationwide Alliance of Specialist Contractors, I have produced a Fair Treatment Charter. This is a simple set of protocols, which if adopted throughout the industry would achieve a much fairer, more open and honest approach to payment throughout the entire supply chain.

    It would be a simple matter to make the Fair Treatment Charter applicable to the contractual relationship between every party in publicly funded contracts, and to amend the Construction Act to make them applicable to every “Construction Contract”.

    The Fair Treatment Charter is available to download on our web site at; http://www.streetwisesubbie.com/fair-treatment-charter

    Reply

The business of site: 10 things running a site can tell you about running a business.

Last week when we spoke about the reasons why we felt a career in construction was worth it, we started thinking a little about the link between working on site and running a business.  After all building sites might have the support of head office, but more often than not you’re pretty alone out there and the process you follow of setting up office, managing work and closing the site down is pretty similar to any small business with an exit strategy. So for those who have been caught out by the recession, or others seeking new opportunities, why not think about your skills differently and see how you can apply them to your own business.
This week let’s consider 10 things running a site can tell you about running a business.
Please note, I’ve written these from the point of view of a setting-out engineer/site manager, so please feel free to comment on how other roles might see this transition: –
1.     How to start.
So you’ve got a site and an idea of what needs to be done, but how do you do it? Think like a site and get a plan, establish contacts, collate the right information and find out what the critical path is. You already know how to ring people you don’t know, so just do it; try to imagine yourself as a business, not an individual, and this will be a lot easier.
2.     Managing finance
I know unless you work in America most sites will have a QS that handles this work, but that doesn’t mean there is no financial interaction; the basics are there – collecting information for contra-charges, checking day rate sheets and information learnt from progress meetings. Trust me, you know this stuff and, whilst some of it gets a bit more complicated, for about £100 a year you can hire an accountant to take the pain away.
3.     Managing staff
If you can motivate sub-contractors who don’t work directly for you, you have already got more skill in this area than you’re giving yourself credit for. Do be careful though, it’s much more difficult to manage people directly; you are paying them with money that could otherwise be going into your own pocket, which is why it’s even more important to build up trusting relationships and empower your employees.
4.     Managing programs
This is, kind of, our thing, which makes life easier – though do be prepared to find out that Microsoft Project Professional costs about £900 per computer; like me, you might have to go old school and use excel for, at least, the first few years.
5.     Producing a quality product
Again, you know what to check for and how to ensure quality; you know when a line needs to be drawn to mm thickness and when a can of spray will do. Apply this to your business to help you prioritise and not waste time on work that doesn’t need to be perfect; trust me, when you’re running your own business, time is not a luxury you will have to waste.
6.     Marketing yourself
Ok, so this is where my plan falls down a little. Most builders I know are not great marketers, but they do have a great base of hard work and quality product to build upon. The industry needs to up-skill when it comes to telling people how much it achieves so don’t take lessons from it here, instead look outside of the sector and see how other companies brand and sell that brand.
7.     Added value
Another thing we do a lot in construction. We look at the big picture; the building needs to get built so we put in extra hours, skills and money to make it happen, often without really considering it – it’s just got to be done. Think of your business in the same way, without being taken advantage of, and work with your clients to achieve their goals. If this means a small bit of additional work, weigh up what’s best in the long run.
8.     Entrepreneurial spirit
On site we find ourselves problem-solving as a matter of course, which is a great stepping stone into business management. Knowing how to overcome issues, seeing the bigger picture and knowing what needs to be done are tools you can’t afford to be without.
9.     Managing risk
In business you need to know which risks will provide a return and which are best left alone.  Again this is something we learn through health and safety training and the day to day experience of life on site.
10. Leadership
Running a site means leading a team. If you can get a site to follow your vision you should appreciate that as a valuable skill that is not as common as you think, and being able to apply that to your own business is a key factor in success.

 

Happy building, Chrissi

 

Is it all worth it in the end? Twenty things construction taught me…

Yes, no and maybe. You see, this question depends upon the role you work in, the people you work for, the company you work in, your personal support networks, your ambitions and your views on work/life balance.
It can be worth it; examples like Anna Stewart show that it is possible for a woman to rise to the top of a major construction company on her own merit.
It can also not be worth it; there are unfortunately a lot of people who have left the sector because of the way they were treated, not because they did not enjoy the work.
Maybe; because there are many people who have found themselves somewhere they did not expect – in education, training or running a business, as a result of the environments they worked in.
I can only speak from my own experience, but I feel it was worth it. Whilst I was not able to achieve my original ambitions of building flagship projects and winning the Construction Manager of the Year Award, I have been able to accomplish many other things that I would never have thought possible, such as running my own business, undertaking a PhD and speaking in the House of Lords. Without my career in construction, good and bad, I don’t believe I would have been able to create the varied, challenging and rewarding career I have today.
So whilst I can’t tell you if it will be worth it in the end, I can tell you what working in construction has taught me: –
  1. People don’t always know what they are talking about, or care.
  2. There is a point when you get so wet in the rain that it ceases to matter.
  3. What hard work really is.
  4. The best sentence in the world is “I built this”.
  5. Some people will go a long way out of their way to help you progress, and never ask a thing for it.
  6. How to multi task.
  7. How to problem solve.
  8. How to manage, cold, wet, angry people.
  9. How to get up really bloomin’ early.
  10. That the impossible can be achieved as long as you have a programme and a good team.
  11. The importance of being kind, especially when someone is stressed
  12. How to run a business, before I ever ran a business.
  13. I cannot drink as much alcohol as ground workers.
  14. You can tell the amount of concrete in a wagon by the number of wheels it has.
  15. How to handle complex and interesting work.
  16. Trigonometry isn’t that difficult.
  17. Some people like being nasty.
  18. People will do extra work for you if you give them Jaffa cakes.
  19. Most people just want to be appreciated.
  20. Floating concrete is one of life’s small joys.

If you look at life as a journey and don’t consider the experience of working on site as an end point, but look instead at all the experiences that make up that picture, I personally think it’s worth it. If you get a good company and good managers that will help you achieve your ambitions – then brilliant, we wish you well. If you’re not so lucky, there is still a lot that can be taken away from the experience that will help you succeed.

Whilst I no longer get to build buildings, something that I miss very much, I get to run a business and possibly change an industry – two things I am only capable of because of my career in construction.
So yes, I think it’s worth it.
Happy building, Chrissi.
To view previous Constructing Equality Ltd. blogs please visit:

9 comments:

  1. Chrissi,
    Absolutely brilliant! Your eloquent description has captured the daily roller coaster ride that we consider normal.
    The design & construction business is challenging, maddening, and very satisfying when you get it right.
    It’s worth it.
    Thanks,
    Jon

    Reply

  2. Yonelle Baptiste, MBA • Via linkedin
    Chrissi,
    Great post. I can relate to some of your experiences and yes working in the rain or in below freezing temperature can be very trying at times. However when the job gets done successfully, and your team feels proud of the work the’ve accomplish, it’s worth it. I always reflect on the experiences I went through and look at the lessons learned.
    Chrissi, just like you, I have started my own company last year, so if there is any you would like to share as a result of building your own company please feel free.

    Yonelle

    Reply

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    Reply

  4. Mihaly Slocombe ‏@MihalySlocombe via twitter
    From an architect’s perspective: 1. Produce good documents 2. Pick the right builder 3. Listen to his / her suggestions @CChrissi 4. Keep designing to the end 5. Pay attention to the detail

    Reply

  5. Dillon Lechkobit ‏Via Twitter
    I feel like this is so true:
    I wish that every person involved in this industry should learn and enjoy the things you have listed out, but not everyone will.

    Reply

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    Reply

  7. Chrissi, it’s apparent from your 20 points that you’ve been in the trenches and you’ve articulated what many of us who have loved and succeeded in construction feel. Having built numerous steel structures in various parts of the world,in a management role, I can relate to the feeling of ” I’ve built this “.
    By Stanley Baker, PMP via linkedin

    Reply

  8. Thank you for your comments, Id love to hear further comments regarding what construction has taught you and if its worth it from your experience.

    ReplyDelete

  9. Janet T Beckett via Twitter
    @carbonsaveruk @CalibreSimon @CChrissi @CIBSEWomen
    Construction taught me ….”that most people are really lovely with only the very occasional b*stard, normally the boss”

    Reply

What do women have to gain by going into the construction industry instead of another industry that is already accommodating to her needs?

Quite a lot actually,

Firstly the pay is higher. As we mentioned before, the jobs dominated by women are the lowest paid but those in more male-dominated sectors come with a higher financial reward. It‘s not without risk, as we mentioned in one of our earlier posts, but from a salary perspective there is a lot to be gained.

Second, is the opportunity to progress; there are still options to climb through the ranks with day-release, apprenticeship and academic routes available. Whilst the recession is off-putting to those entering university now, they should be coming out of university just as the industry recovers, which means a good chance that they will secure a role.

Individuality; being able to do something you enjoy is an important factor when making decisions for your life. I tried other gender-traditional roles before construction but none of them gave me the sense of fulfillment that this industry has. Being able to work in a role that you enjoy is a priceless and rewarding experience and should not be undervalued. That being said make sure you are prepared for what you might encounter, plan your career and make sure your employers know about it and are on board to help you achieve your ambitions.

I strongly believe that employers do want to help foster and grow their female talent; they are just not always sure of the right way to go about it. So, ask questions, seek advice, form networks, plan your career, seek out appropriate training and form networks (not a typo, it really is that important).

Want to read more on the subject women in construction? The following previous Constructing Equality Ltd. blogs are also very interesting and topical:

 

”If men don’t like the construction industry, why would women?”

In the latest in a series of questions asked by Becky we will address “If men don’t like the construction industry, why would women?” Here we will consider how the industry treats its employees generally and why it should be attractive as an industry. In order to do this I will focus on the average construction; worker a middle-aged white man.
If you would like further reasoning on why women should seek such a career, in addition to these comments, please have a look at the first blog and other blogs in this series.
Firstly, let’s acknowledge that “if men don’t like construction” is a  bit of a generalisation; at the moment we are in the middle of a difficult economic climate (as if you hadn’t noticed) and unfortunately, it looks like construction is one of the sectors that has been hit the hardest (workplace employment relations study 2011) so it’s bound to seem like people are unhappy here.
However, it should be recognised that some of the things that make the industry great have gotten a little out of hand and can now be the very things that become off-putting. I have listed some examples below and shall talk about two in full.

  •         Large number of small firms in industry; suicide bidding
  •         Ability to rise through the ranks; glass ceilings
  •         High self-employment; false self-employment
  •         Opportunity to progress quickly; project-based work
  •         Varied and challenging work; long hours culture
  •         The craic; the pressure to conform
  •         Responsibility; expectation of men
  •         Travel; transient work
If you would like me to elaborate on other areas in a separate blog please do let me know.  But for now: –

High self-employment; false self-employment

Positive: –
High self-employment – Construction is a sector where you can be your own boss, work your own hours and charge your own rates.
Obviously it’s become harder; where there was a massive demand for bricklayers previously, there are now estimated to be five for every job as a result of new building methods and the recession.
Nonetheless though, especially when times are good, it gives you the freedom to work flexibly. Bricklayers, steel fixers and other skilled trades often work this way.
Negative: –
False self-employment – this is where some people realised they could take advantage; by taking on people as self-employed subcontractors but treating them as employees.
This means that whilst they have to work the days and the hours dictated to them, they do not get holiday benefits, the right to a tribunal, or any of the other protections the law gives to employed staff.
In the very worst cases this method can be used to pay people less than minimum wage.
Solution: –
I’ve often heard that this is a situation welcomed by the workforce and whilst I would agree that skilled trades benefit from this arrangement (though it could be argued that the Exchequer does not, with an estimated loss of £1.9billion per annum) it’s the unskilled trades that worry me.
In my time on site I spoke to a number of ground workers, concrete slab gangs and general labourers who felt they were being taken advantage of but had no other option  than to stay put for many reasons including; lack of qualifications, need for a a steady wage and illiteracy.
We need to be aware of this as an industry; it drives down prices so firms paying a fair wage and treating employees with respect are driven out of business.
The solution is for main contractors to be more aware and to investigate the organisations they are working with.
As one main contractor put it, “on my last job we subcontracted the concrete and labour for less than we could buy the materials alone with our own privileged discount from the same supplier. We really should have looked into that”.

The Craic; pressure to conform

Positive: –

Some parts of construction site culture I love; the camaraderie, the banter, the general understanding that we are all going to be experiencing the same British weather whilst trying to build a building for less money than it costs, with less time than it takes, for longer hours than we are paid for, so we might as well try and have a bit of fun doing it.
Any attack on the “craic”, in its purest form, I will not let go unchallenged as it builds teams, makes the day enjoyable and gives us a sense of identity – put simply, it rocks.

Negative: –
Unfortunately some people chose to use site banter to bully, oppress humiliate and belittle their colleagues not only for their own amusement but also to cement their position in a given group. If you don’t find it funny you don’t have a sense of humour, your not one of the lads, you just don’t get “it”
I personally don’t buy this excuse, mainly because if I ever raise objection to something said in a group, the other members usually have come up to me and said something along the lines of “I agree with what you said. Sorry I didn’t say so earlier, it’s just you know, you have to go along with it”.
In my experience though, it’s never “the lads” that think its ok it’s usually one lad who everyone else is agreeing with to avoid an argument.
It seems the more a group looks the same the more we feel we have to fit in with a stereotype and unfortunately the one placed upon construction could do with a bit of an overhaul.
Solution: –

99% of the people (of which on site about 99% were men) I have met working on site were polite, respectful folk who just wanted to do their job, maybe have a laugh and get paid. 1% wanted to stir up trouble, create controversy and make people feel bad about themselves.
I believe you will find this in any workplace. I think construction differs because we don’t stop it. We think everyone else agrees with that one git and so it’s therefore not just OK to go along with the behaviour but would, in fact, be bad for us personally if we didn’t.
I think the solution to improving this misplaced belief is to stand up to people who think it’s funny to reinforce this negative stereotype; we need to make it ok to say I’m a builder and I’m proud of that; what you’re saying might make people think badly of us all, so give it a rest and try and find something that’s actually funny to say.
So, I suppose the answer is that whilst there are reasons to dislike the sector there are also reasons to love it. It needs a bit of help in its approach to people which is something that is being considered strategically as we speak; but the people in it also need to play their part by not allowing others to drag our industry down just because they don’t respect others. Saying “I build things” should make people ask “How? What? Where?” not say “Oh right”, as they try not to be patronising.