Building on people skills


Housebuilder Redrow has opened a national training centre to help attract higher calibre recruits and create a stronger corporate culture. Guy Sheppard talks to new training and development manager, Ilona Hall, about the courses on offer and the company’s plans for its staff


Training is playing a key role in achieving Redrow’s ambition to have the best track record for staff recruitment in the building industry. The company sold a record 4,000 homes last year and has seen the number of its employees increase from 730 to 1,300 since 1998. But its growing prestige among house builders is not enough to stay competitive in the employment market, says training and development manager Ilona Hall.


“The construction industry workforce has become increasingly mobile and if people don’t feel that they are developing and growing as people, they do tend to move on.”


Redrow’s answer has been to invest £500,000 on a new national training centre in Tamworth, near Coventry, which opened in September 2003.


A four-strong in-house training team has been created from scratch, offering mix of vocational training and personal development courses. Many of these are based around accelerated learning which encourages a hands-on, interactive approach using music, games, quizzes and fun.


Radical change


Hall was recruited nine months ago, after Redrow decided that a radical change in training methods was needed to improve internal communications and keep staff motivated as their numbers increase.


“Some of the largest construction companies have their own technical colleges, but these are very skills-based,” she says. “We do a lot more than that in offering management development and personal development. I think we are quite unique.”


The company, which is also involved in commercial property, provides around 50 trade apprenticeships across the UK, but  most manual work is contracted out anyway.


Although construction industry skill shortages are the most acute, shortages also occur in the professional and administrative functions that make up the bulk of Redrow’s workforce. The latest figures from the Construction Industry Training Board show that one in five housebuilders experience difficulty recruiting managers. Another challenge facing Redrow is how to instil a common sense of culture across its 11 regional offices which are spread across England, Scotland and Wales.


Before the training centre opened six months ago, courses were either bought in on a sporadic basis from outside or run in-house on a much smaller scale at the company’s head office in Flintshire, in North Wales.


It is still too early to quantify the impact of the centre, which will have an annual running cost of  £400,000, but Hall believes it will be a catalyst for changing the corporate culture.


“There’s a very strong ‘can do’ approach to work in Redrow which is very refreshing,” Hall says, “but if you are looking at long-term success in this sector, it’s about having a really good reputation for quality and being second to none in customer service.”


She argues that this can only be achieved if the same standards are applied across the organisation. She believes that ensuring trainees on each course are drawn from as broad a range of locations as possible is an effective way of spreading knowledge and best practice throughout the organisation. Simply instructing regional offices to meet agreed processes and standards is not enough, she says.


“As with anything that is written down, there are different ways of interpreting it. The only way you will get past that, is to get people to talk about how they will approach it. The way we put training courses together allows lots of time for discussion so people doing a particular job have lots of time to talk about the way they approach it,” she says.


Improving the induction programme has been a fundamental part of the new strategy.


“When we opened the training centre, the focus for us was to make sure that people who joined the company had a really solid induction. That no matter what function they have, there is a career route for them to follow. They are given induction plans that outline the knowledge, skills and behaviours that are needed for a particular role so they can be ticked off when they have been covered. It’s what they need to know to achieve baseline competency in their role.”


Leading the way


Everyone spends the first day being introduced to the culture and values of the company before being told what is expected of them in their specific role. This would probably take at least three days for a site manager to complete and up to six days for a quantity surveyor. Hall says that checking the induction plans after three months will clearly show how successful the programme has been.  


Hall’s other priority has been to introduce a new management development programme. Called ‘Leading the way’, the first stage was completed in January and focused on working with new recruits. Around 300 managers took part in the one-day course which concentrated on what they needed to do to make sure the induction process runs successfully (see box).


Two of the most innovative training ideas to be adopted by Hall will be rolled out later this year.  


From March, one-day personal and career development workshops will cover long-term career ambitions and how they can be achieved. Hall says it will make individuals more aware of how and when they learn new skills and the responsibilities that are needed to take on new roles.


“It’s about things like shadowing people and getting involved in projects that will give them the relevant experience,” she says.


This does not mean encouraging everyone to change their jobs, however. “You have to be careful about managing people’s expectations,” says Hall. “It does not guarantee them a role, but it does make sure they are in a strong position to apply for it when it becomes vacant.”


Expectations


Even if individuals are happy in their existing role, the workshop will still be relevant, she says.


“The construction industry and customer expectations are constantly changing so we will be looking at how people need to adapt to these challenges and what they can do to improve.”


This summer, ‘one team’ workshops will start bringing together everyone from main board directors to the newest office junior, encouraging them to think and work as a team.


Hall says the aim is to show everyone what they are doing in relation the whole company, mixing people who deal direct with the customer with people who provide support. “It’s only by doing that that you create understanding,” she says. “It’s no good the training manager saying ‘we must all pull together’. It’s far more powerful if you are talking about real case studies from within the company and sitting alongside people you rely on or they rely on you. If, for example, a site manager has a query about a design, he will be relying on someone in the office to get back to him as quickly as possible.”


Measures of success


One of the most obvious measures of the training centre’s success will be staff retention, particularly during the initial three-month period.


“If someone leaves, we do an exit interview anyway but after three months we are asking people to rate the induction process as well.”


Redrow has already cut staff turnover by 5 per cent in the past 18 months and plans to cut it by a further 10 per cent in the next 18 months.


Less tangible markers include the level of internal promotion within the company, the response to job adverts and the level of satisfaction registered once buyers move into a Redrow home.


“We do a customer satisfaction survey within six weeks’ of them moving in,” says Hall. “It’s a great way of finding out if we’re doing things right and also of picking up potential training needs for our staff.”


The number of people actually using the training centre will also be a useful yardstick, together with the qualifications they gain, Hall says.


Although a few core courses, such as induction and ‘one team’, are mandatory, Hall is loathe to give the impression that training is somehow being imposed on managers and staff. “You will always have some who see the benefits that training brings and others that don’t see them. If you don’t work with the latter then that is where things go wrong.”


She believes a significant part of her role is to sell the benefits of training and build relationships throughout the organisation. “That’s especially important when you are coming to us and asking how we can help,” she says.


CV
Ilona Hall


2003 Training and development manager, Redrow. Masters degree in HRM


2000 Senior training and development manager, stockbroker Charles Schwab Europe


1999 Member of Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development


1997 UK training officer, Lloyds Register Quality Assurance


1996 Training executive, Prudential Banking


1993 Training officer, SearsCard


1987 Courier manager with Ryder, Next Directory and Grattan


1984 Sales manager, Oriflame


Leading from the top


The most striking feature of the ‘Leading the Way’ management course has been the manner in which it encouraged an exchange of ideas between all levels of management as well as regional offices.


“It mixed everyone up from assistant site manager right up to chief executive,” says Hall. “To see that the most senior people in the company do this, sends a powerful message about the importance of this training throughout the organisation.”


One benefit of this approach is the way it raises awareness about different management styles.


“Some will be site managers working with a lot of sub-contractors. Some will be in charge of big teams, others small teams. It made for some very lively discussions about what is and is not appropriate in different situations.”


 

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