Building Pathways (BP) is a CITB commissioned project under the Pathways into Construction initiative. Since project commencement on 1 July 2019, BP has made a strong start in the first 2 quarters, meeting or exceeding the majority of targets and getting close to the remaining few. In only 8 months, the project has created a very positive reputation and brand, which is starting to accrue ‘word of Mouth’ recommendations from partners and other third parties.
At the beginning of March 2020, BP was on track to complete another successful quarter (Q3), but as the spread of Coronavirus (COVID19 or CV19) increased, together with the changing Governmental advice and restrictions, it became apparent that BP would be significantly impacted. Already a number of events have been cancelled or postponed, and work placements (13) scheduled for this week similarly postponed.
Whilst it is inevitable that some momentum will be lost, as it will be for many projects and businesses worldwide, the BP team have taken stock and are putting together a strategy on what we can do, rather than what we can’t do. Or perhaps how we might do things differently until the situation returns to normal. The plan below constitutes some thoughts and practical steps about how we are going to operate over the next few weeks and months.
The BP model
The BP model encourages beneficiaries, supporters and employers to join the scheme so that beneficiaries can be given the best possible pre-employment support, inspiration and encouragement before taking on employment. The model is shown in the diagram below and the plan going forward examines each component in turn:
We engage beneficiaries (all 5 cohorts) through recruitment events, from referral partners and, increasingly, by ‘word of mouth’. By the end of Q3 (end of Mar 20), we will have run or participated in 14 recruitment events, against a CITB target of 6. These have (largely) produced 211 beneficiary registrations (at the time of this report) against an end of Q3 target of 167. It is very likely that we will not be participating in recruitment events during Q4 and whilst the number of beneficiaries exceed the targets, we will not be resting on our laurels and will continue to ask our referral partners to provide input. Sadly, a likely outcome of the economic impact of CV19 is going to be a short term (hopefully) increase in the number of NEETs and unemployed, so the need to help our beneficiaries will be stronger in the coming months, not less.
On top of this we will continue to ask our current and growing number of beneficiaries to recommend us by ‘word of mouth’ and although that may decline over the next few weeks, we would expect the overall number to continue to climb.
One of the early success stories of Building Pathways has been the willingness of employers to join the scheme. There are currently 35 organisations registered with BP (against an end of Q3 target of 20 and an end of project – Jul 21 – of 50) and we are gaining them at broadly one per week. These comprise a mix of large (SRM, Wates, Kier etc) and SME employers, together with construction employment organisations (like VGC) and our aim is to continue to engage with a spectrum of companies from Tier 1s to supply chain minnows. During the likely lockdown, we will engage them virtually and, if allowed, F2F if sensible precautions can be taken. Part of the engagement includes the registration of ambassadors (internal flag wavers within a company) and mentors, and we will be conducting mentor training virtually, with the first training session scheduled to take place on Thu 26th Mar. In many ways, the guidance to encourage remote or home working will be an opportunity for some construction managers to learn new skills like mentorship.
IAG, Training and Mentoring
We have already adapted our model to include virtual IAG sessions to every new registrant during the induction phase, so this will be unaffected by CV19 as long as the beneficiaries continue to register. Our numbers run far in excess of targets (179 sessions vs 63 for end of Q3), but again we mustn’t become complacent and our aim is that every new beneficiary will receive an induction and IAG as part of the programme because it helps them understand the programme better and makes it more likely that they will progress onwards.
Similarly, since January 2020, we have invested in some online job specific training courses in partnership with Vital Skills and are seeing an increasing take up in only the last few weeks. We expect this to increase further still as people are forced to stay at home.
Mentor matching is one area we are now looking at more closely as clearly F2F mentoring is going to be problematic, in the short term at least. We have adapted our mentor training to include virtual mentoring and will be encouraging our mentors to adopt these new practices. Early signs are encouraging, but we do acknowledge that we need more mentors than we currently have on the books and we will be initiating a campaign in April to recruit more mentors from our registered employers, with the offer of gaining skills through our virtual mentor training package an attractive pull.
Work Placements and Employment
Annoyingly, we were on track to meet our targets cumulatively for Q3 (or very close), but employers understandably have been nervous about committing to much in the current circumstances. 13 work placements due to commence this week have been deferred till April (and likely beyond). One of our most proactive employers has just moved its apprenticeship programme, due to start in April, to September.
This is one area that we will find difficult to make much progress whilst the uncertainty surrounding how long CV19 will affect us remains. We will continue to work with employers to ensure that opportunities do not dry up completely and our aim is to help eligible local people in local jobs to avoid travel restrictions if possible, but largely it will be out of our hands.
As we enter the final quarter of our first year, we are buoyed by our progress to date and determined to find ways to ‘beat the virus’ going forwards. We have or are in the process of tailoring some of our services to operate virtually and are hopeful that we won’t lose too much momentum. Clearly, we are not alone, but ‘all in this together’ and there appears to be a ‘war time spirit’ breaking out which will see more collaborative ways of working together. And that is no bad thing.