The long term effects of social clauses in construction.

HS2 Story

This month Construction manager ran a story about HS2 looking to France for best practice. Whilst  the scheme does certainly strike a chord with our social value driven hearts we would advise a word of caution. Whatever work is undertaken in this area we must look to the longer term impact on the sector, individuals and businesses. Whilst numbers of people into work is excellent to see, I would feel a lot happier if I knew how this affected long term employment, average retention rates and impact on the companies.

It’s a problem that initiatives in the area of equality and diversity or fairness, inclusion and respect often have. Especially in situations like construction projects where there is a lot of work to be done by a variety of different people; it can be really hard to make sure that different work streams don’t undermine each other and lead to neutral  or even detrimental effects.

Take for example the apprentice clauses that ask for a number of new apprentices per project, often based upon the value of the contract. Here with a supply chain that is likely to be transient especially in the case of specialist subcontractors, it is highly likely that this working arrangement will become unfeasible once that particular geographical area of work is complete. Not only does this lead to the end of the apprentice for that individual, it can also make it harder for them to find another work placement as people often prefer to train their apprentices from scratch if they are taking them on. It can also reduce the chances of them undertaking a different route to employment as if it is deemed that the original placement has used up part or all of their funding allocation for that year. Even where this is not the case in a competitive market colleges and other providers are likely to prefer a fresh candidate  that may require less paperwork.

This individual is likely to feel abandoned and used by the sector, not only might they decide to walk away from it. If they do they are likely to advise others to do the same – further adding to the image problems we have in our industry.

Apprentice initiatives themselves are then more likely to be seen as tick box exercises that cannot be substantiated long term and so the companies forced to undertaken them have been known to abandon their own established and long term programs in order to meet unrealistic procurement demands.

We are not saying that benefit cannot derive from such schemes, actual we are saying the opposite. If the work is measure and assessed over a longer term period. If people are prepared to really look at what works and talk to the stakeholders involved in a way that does not make them fearful of losing out on contracts if they are honest. We can start to develop programmes that will have a real and beneficial effect for all. At the moment if we continue to borrow best practice from less transient sectors of the industry such as social housing and apply it to one off specialist transient project without real consideration to the differences in each; I’m afraid we should expect to fail to do anything other than create some lovely short term statistics.

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