The world isnt fair… but we should be

The CITB’s Be Fair framework is designed to help construction employers to embed fairness, inclusion and respect in their day-to-day activities. Michael Smyth, the head of human resources at £420m-turnover contractor Graham Construction, and Jean Duprez, manager at London-based decorating subcontractor K&M McLoughlin, explain what their companies have gained from Be Fair accreditation.

Jean Duprez
Michael Smyth










Why did you decide to go for Be Fair accreditation?

Michael Smyth We were looking to get diversity training for managers; it’s a key issue for the industry and for our business. So that’s how we heard about the framework. We did a pilot of some of the modules, then our Scottish division did a full pilot assessment. We’re now doing it across the UK for the whole business.

We wanted to know where we were compared with other organisations, and then to stretch ourselves. We got Bronze accreditation, but quite a number of our practices were Silver. To achieve that every site manager and operative has to be at that level so we aim to be at Silver in early to mid-2015.

Jean Duprez I am always looking at whatever we can do as a company to improve and give us an edge. I thought we did fairly well: we have this policy and that policy and I thought accreditation would be a breeze. Then I realised that although we had lots of policies, they weren’t used throughout the company.

For example, to work on the Olympics, we needed an equality and diversity policy, so we ticked that box. But when it came to how we advertised for staff, there were things in the policy that weren’t embedded in how we did things. Plus, although we don’t have a huge supply chain, we didn’t know how to pass those ideas on to them.

What exactly does achieving the accreditation involve?

MS It covers a wide range of things (see box). Part one is to do with recruitment and getting a diverse workforce. It’s about getting a variety of skills in our organisation – if you have the same thinking from the same people, you will end up with the same results. A big part is working with subcontractors and the supply chain to help them meet the standard. There is one module on how we work with the supply chain, and there are different modules for main contractors, smaller contractors and subcontractors. Going through the process with them makes it easier for them to get their own accreditation.

JD We had no policies on supply chain management, so I used the templates provided by Be Fair. Companies are signed up to a three-strikes policy, and they have to adhere to all the policies and practices of the Be Fair framework so we can keep an eye on what’s going right and wrong, for example with recruitment adverts.

We also used the templates ourselves. For example, when someone was leaving we had never before given them an exit interview. We had three staff leave in a year, and found out exactly why and if there was any way we could retain them.

How did you implement the changes?

MS Every site has a Be Fair champion, it could be a QS, a site manager or an operative, someone everyone feels they can talk to and who is a link between the site and the management team. They get training that we run, and all site operatives get an equality and diversity presentation. It’s also part of the staff induction process.

JD If you’re working in an office environment, you can call a meeting about equality and diversity policies. But conveying your message to operatives, foremen and supervisors across 25 sites is a huge challenge. We were sending them emails, but they weren’t opening them and not prioritising them. So we now print a newsletter, even though it costs money and uses paper.

What was the impact on your business?

MS In our employees’ engagement survey, the number saying that they believed the company was committed to equality and diversity rose by 5%. We also saw an increase in the number of job applicants, so people were thinking: if I go to that company, I’ll be treated well and I’ll be able to build a career. Our staff absence rate has decreased too. It was embraced enthusiastically by everyone, with very little resistance.

JD We changed the way our policies were operated and related. It made us a more open and transparent company. We now have a company that, from top to bottom, knows what it’s striving for. Our policies used to be five pages long, now they’re one page, but everyone knows what they are.

What will be the future for Be Fair?

MS There are lots of frameworks, but this one is run by the CITB and they understand what it’s like to work in construction and where we are on the journey. We’ve already got Investors in People, but in terms of diversity, to us this is the standard for the industry. If it becomes the standard everyone understands, then instead of us filling in a 30-page document for a tender, then we could simply say that we’ve got a Bronze or Silver.

JD As a company we have to do a lot of accreditations to work, such as CHAS, Achilles, Constructionline, and each costs a lot of money. But I would willingly pay my money to be part of Be Fair. To learn more, go to

What is the Be Fair framework?

The Be Fair framework is the CITB’s badge for fair working practices. Tailored versions are available for micro, small and medium-sized subcontractors, and small, medium and large main contractors. Other versions for clients, housing associations and house builders are coming.

The framework includes a full action plan for companies, along with all the supporting documents that they might need. Accreditation requires companies to pass five modules. These are: working with the supply chain; site environment; employment and recruitment; policies and procedures; leadership and strategy.

The CITB has two authorised providers. Constructing Equality offers Be Fair accreditation at Bronze, Silver and Gold levels, whereas SEE Training offers Bronze accreditation only.

A CITB incentive of £1,000 to the first 100 companies to gain accreditation – a sum likely to cover the assessment costs for any firm with fewer than 100 staff – is available via Constructing Equality.

The assessment process is run by two companies at the present: Liverpool-based Constructing Equality offers accreditation at Gold, Silver and Bronze levels, and SEE Things offers Bronze level accreditation.

First Published in Construction Manager

Age is no limit for training at Durkan

DurkanLogo_124810Bronze Level Be Fair accredited Durkan are working hard to prove that age need not be any barrier to retraining in the construction trades.

Durkan work closely with training partner Construction Training Initiative (CTI) to deliver accredited training opportunities to residents in some of the most diverse communities in the UK.

CTI are the training arm of social housing group Notting Hill Housing and share Durkan’s equality and diversity values and objectives. The partnership uses positive action recruitment strategies, focusing on recognising potential and removing barriers to inclusion.

A prime example of how this approach can achieve success is demonstrated by the case of Porsche Nelson. At 49 years of age Porsche approached CTI at an outreach opportunities event in Merton South West London.

Unemployed for some time, Porsche not only was desperate to work, but he wanted to gain the skills that would get him a good position with job satisfaction and a decent wage. Impressed by Porsche’s enthusiasm and commitment CTI secured him an accredited apprenticeship as a carpenter and placed him with Durkan for his site experience.

Porsche has come through his apprenticeship with flying colours and in July 2014 achieved his career goal by being taken on as a permanent employee by his current mentoring sub-contractor Woodpecker Carpentry.  Well done Porsche!

North West Mentor Scheme

ISGLogo_124758A workplace mentoring scheme, titled ‘The Learner Voice’, was piloted in the North West. ISG participated in the scheme with five team members supporting the initiative, which is a partnership between the Construction Industry Council (CIC) North-West Regional Committee, the Higher Education Academy and CITB.

A consortium of universities in the North West agreed to take part in the scheme which aims to match 2nd year Built Environment undergraduates with construction industry professionals who have successfully built careers in their chosen fields.

Students at four universities were mentored. The partnerships were suggested on the experience that each representative could offer, and also linked in to where each mentor was brought up, to add extra relevance.

Richard Wynne was studying for a BSc (Hons) in Construction Management at Liverpool John Moores University, and had regular meetings, discussing topics including Risk Assessment and Method Statements (RAMS), forms of procurement variation management and the overall construction market.

Richard commented: “It has been great to get some support and guidance from somebody working in construction, offering an insight into how the industry really works. Gary’s knowledge and use of real world examples has given me a better understanding of some key areas, and this will certainly help in making the transition from study to the workplace.”

ISG will continue to participate in the scheme and other areas are now also looking to roll out the scheme.

Morgan Sindall at Liverpool Pride

IMG_4238_144654Morgan Sindall is passionate about supporting the communities around the UK in which they work and attending Liverpool Pride presented a great opportunity to do this. Constructing Equality coordinated events which saw Morgan Sindall, alongside a range of other companies, represent the construction industry.

In addition to this, Morgan Sindall also wanted to promote construction as a career of choice to all with whom they spoke, as well as to highlight the dangers of construction sites to children. Hence they invited Ivor Goodsite to the event along with the Hunt the Hazard board. Ivor really helped to encourage festival goers to come and speak to everybody and even had a little dance to the variety of music!

Actors help Sovini instill culture

sovinilogo_103028Sovini Property Services is committed to ensuring that Best Practice in Equality and Diversity is instilled in their culture. Their people strive to make a difference in local communities and have been involved in mentoring young people and volunteering at the Liverpool Pride Festival and other local community events.

Recently they demonstrated their commitment to Equality and Diversity by investing in a radical training initiative for over 200 employees.  The aim of the initiative was to use live actors and real scenarios to challenge a variety of Equality and Diversity issues around mental health, race, sexuality, and to promote professional boundaries.

This approach ensured that their employees could engage with the impact of current Equality and Diversity issues on people and the wider community. The training was really well received by employees and people were still talking about it for days afterwards.

Employees commented: “The way the training was delivered was brilliant. It really brought home the issues and made it come alive”. The training made such an impact that they have now decided to deliver the course to 60 of their involved tenants.

The company who delivered the training was called AFTA Thought

Emanuel Whittaker target underrepresentation

Emmanual Whittaker

The inquiry talked at length to three of their employees from non-white ethnic minority backgrounds and to the chief executive.

The firm developed a variety of initiatives to diversify its workforce in recognition of the changing nature of the communities within which they operate:

  • To take advantage of the potential for new communities to widen the pool of recruits
  • In recognition of the value of reflecting the communities served to deliver improved customer confidence
  • To develop a greater understanding of the needs of their clients and of social housing tenants.

Their diversity initiatives also recognised that certain groups were less likely to apply for work in the industry.

The methods used by the firm to increase diversity in both recruitment and retention of staff included:

  • Developing specific diversity objectives and plans for achieving them
  • Setting recruitment and retention targets across non-white ethnic groups
  • Changing facilities to accommodate cultural and religious requirements

False self-employment: a ticking time bomb?

Chrissi3-300x202The industry is facing tough questions over its use of labour-only subcontractors with terms like “bogus self-employment” and umbrella companies dominating the headlines.

Things have not always been like this, but with the continuation of risk being passed down the supply chain, late payment terms and uncertainty of the recession, subcontractors have adopted any means possible to keep their heads above water.

As a result, they have had to minimise risk and free cash flow wherever possible.

But it is not just the organisations who feel labour-only subcontracting is the right way to go. Many individuals in the industry feel positive about being self-employed – by legal definition, they are not.

Harvey & Behling (2008) determined a number of factors that identified an individual as truly self-employed, which include: defining your own working hours, being able to sub-contract out works and purchasing your own materials.

“Subcontractors have adopted any means possible to keep their heads above water.”

The majority of individuals working on a subcontract basis in the sector fail to achieve these criteria. Of course, while there are some trades, bricklayers in particular, with a long and established history of self-employment, it is important to note that they do satisfy the criteria set by Harvey.

We have an interest in the ones that do not. So why would someone want to be classed as self-employed if they miss out on benefits such as holiday pay, employment rights and employer national insurance contributions?

It is a matter of perception: people like the idea of what self-employment means, even if it doesn’t translate to their actual experience of working in the sector.

For example, I have had this exchange with a number of individuals who identify as self-employed:

Do you like being self-employed? Yes

Why? I can work the hours I want, take time off when I want and leave when I want.

OK, so do you work flexible hours? Well no, I work a 40-hour week, but I don’t have to.

Do you take time off? Yes, I have to put in for holidays a few weeks in advance but they are always accepted.

And can you leave when you want? Yes, I have to give a months’ notice and then I can go.

Would you leave? I doubt it, I’ve been here over 27 years now and I’m quite happy.

These individuals are no better off and receive no benefit from being self-employed. They do not receive holiday pay or other entitlements for protection – provided by law to directly employed people. There is a perception that they are better off, which is at odds with the reality.

This is a problem for individuals and possibly a ticking time bomb for companies.

Not everyone is happy with the false self-employed model. Individuals are increasingly unhappy paying a separate company part of their wages to comply with the law, especially since the HMRC is working hard to reduce the tax breaks that were once an individual’s incentive.

This problem could leave us with a workforce who feel separated from their employers. Ultimately, it is not just about employing someone, rather finding talented individuals who will work hard for you.

People with a choice are making career decisions in other industries that give them basic employment rights. If we continue down this road, as the market picks up, we will find it even harder to find people willing to work in the sector – let alone work hard in it.

So what can we do?

As main contractors look to procure and establish long-term supply chains, we can understand the implications of late payments terms and the effect these have on our subcontractors.

Before the recession, we spent a long time learning how important supply chain management is to our businesses – it is now time to revisit those lessons before the best subcontractors make the choice for you.

For subcontractors, it is time to make some business decisions: you consider the long-term benefits of direct employment alongside the short-term gains of labour-only subcontracting.

“Consider your staff’s identity”

Consider your staff’s identity and employ a stepped approach that educates and supports your staff, providing the choice to remain on a self-employed basis for those who are unhappy with change. Explain the benefits of direct employment and help staff to understand how it affects them.

The CITB Be Fair framework provides a step-by-step guide and includes all the supporting resources you need to create a fair, inclusive and respectful staff environment that will help increase productivity and engagement.

Ensuring employees have the appropriate employment rights is the foundation to improve fairness, inclusion and respect – but it will not provide all the answers.

Once in place, there needs to be opportunities for staff across the business to feel valued and appreciated. This will help ensure that construction is an industry people want to, not have to, work in.

Patrick Hughes - Business Admin Apprentice

Round-up of 2013/2014 (last 12 months) and how CEq is doing

Patrick Hughes - Business Admin ApprenticeMy name is Patrick Hughes and I am the Finance Trainee at Constructing Equality Ltd. Within the company we are all allowed a chance to write a blog on something that is relevant to our business. This gives Chrissi a break from writing the blog every week so I hope you find this interesting. As it was my turn to write the blog I thought I would give an insight on how I feel the company has been doing the last twelve months. It is now coming up to my second year anniversary at the business so I thought I would share my insight of how the business has impacted me.

It is has been a very successful year for Constructing Equality Ltd – we have finished delivering the pilot stage of CITB’s Be Fair Framework and we are now the first licensed provider for the launched Framework.

We have also had plenty of achievements within the business this year as both of the company’s trainees (Paul and I) have passed our first years at Higher education, myself for my HNC and Paul for his degree; these are achievements that both we and Constructing Equality Ltd are very proud of. Constructing Equality Ltd has always believed in developing our staff and offering them every chance they need to further their development as we grow our own talent for our future.

Constructing Equality Ltd are now looking forward to the growth and establishment of our new product line of Online Learning as it is picked up by the industry – we have been able to offer them another industry first as we specialise in Equality and Diversity as well as Construction so our Online Learning is specific, relevant and relatable. From my own personal experience of testing it throughout its development, I found it useful, informative and fun; something I thought equality and diversity could not be.

Our aim as a company is to make change within the industry and by having Online Learning products that will give employers and employees the knowledge that they need around Equality and Diversity, alongside CITB’s Be Fair Framework, in ways that understand their businesses and their industry, this aim seems more and more likely to be realised. 

Whilst developing the industry specific Online Learning we have also been busy delivering face to face learning to companies all over the country.  This has varied from ‘Women in Construction’ to ‘Professionalism in the Workplace’ for companies including ISG, Taylor Wimpey and Derbyshire County Council.  All had positive responses that the work we do is valuable, supports their development, is worthwhile and indicated that others should have the benefit too. One of my favourite feedback comments from employee delegate was: “This has been the most enjoyable, informative course I have ever experienced and it has opened my eyes regarding other people”

We have recently attended Liverpool Pride 2014; here we were able to represent the Construction Industry with such companies and organisations as ISG, Morgan Sindall, Aecom, Space Architects and CITB. It was a fantastic day where everyone was able to engage with people and demonstrate support for the LGBT community by the construction industry.

The year has been very eventful and fulfilling – we are excited for what comes next and all the new exciting challenges we face to make such a powerful industry into a fair and equal place of work; it is a challenge we are relishing and we are hoping for the perfect outcome.

It is nice to know that the work you do actually helps other people and could potentially make them enjoy their work more.