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Valuing people – The power to deliver


BeFairRecruitment and retention in the construction sector is something that has been the subject of many debates, as there is a real issue in terms of developing standards, and ethnic minorities and women are also highly unrepresented. Here, we discuss this in further depth while also providing suggestions on what can be done to attract and retain the best talent in the UK construction sector.

Don’t ‘treat ‘em mean’

One issue that is plaguing the industry is that subcontractors often feel undervalued, which, of course, has a knock-on effect. Most would agree that there is a total imbalance of power. Barry Ashmore, the owner of a company providing dispute resolution in the construction sector, StreetwiseSubbie, remarked that younger people are being trained to think that beating subcontractors is the way to do business, calling it shameful.

Payment issues

Unfair payment practices are the main issue, with a recent survey revealing that every three in five subcontractors are underpaid by main contractors, even when they job they delivered was perfect. In addition to this, 55 per cent of SMEs need to wait over 30 days to be paid, and one in ten subcontractors mistakenly believe that main contractors can simply refuse payment without any justification.

We’re all equal – aren’t we?

There is then the issue that women and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the construction sector. The industry is 13 per cent female, yet this drops to 5 per cent in technical and professional roles, while ethnic minorities struggle to make up a mere two per cent. Maternity leave is virtually anathema. In fact, in STEM roles as a whole, 28 per cent of women have taken maternity leave, which is shocking when you consider that 80 per cent of women in the UK have at least one child.

An industry-wide shakeup is needed

It is evident that there needs to be a push to develop standards in the industry, ensuring that there is more equality and a positive approach to diversity. However, the issue is that the focus on developing these standards tends to be with a few major firms, who are then expected to filter these standards down to SMEs. This makes little sense considering the sector is 96 per cent SMEs, and they can often feel like they are being bullied by the bigger firms, which in turn causes a greater negative spiral.

Starting from the bottom

Instead, it would be advisable to work from the bottom up to promote equality and diversity in the industry, showing businesses the value of this. There is also a need to focus on improving business management, encouraging a professional attitude towards managing subcontractors and being open to hiring women and ethnic minorities. By embedding respect throughout the sector and implementing good management practice, the feeling of being undervalued can be eradicated. Knowledge and information resources need to be easily accessible so that firms know what to do in order to raise standards while coherent communication and promotion of good practices is also vital.

Practice what you preach – we do!

At Highwire, this is something we are heavily invested in. We have active involvement in CITB BeFair, which is a structured approach to Fairness, Inclusion, and Respect (FIR). We are actually the smallest company to receive the CITB equality and diversity accreditation, and we are focused on driving equality and diversity from the ground upwards. Our director, Liz Rickard, sits on the BSI board and works alongside the government in regards to the new diversity standard.

It is vital that all businesses, even the smallest firms, start to take responsibility. The focus should be on working with companies that have the right attitude, instead of expecting to drive standards down from the top. Next time you have a project, see it as an opportunity to build for the future by taking this into account.

Contact Highwire to find out more

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Our Director featured in Telegraph article as engineering role model


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Our director Liz was delighted to be featured in the recent article in the Telegraph

“It is great to see the media portraying a diverse and positive image of engineering and construction careers, and essential to attract talent and ensure the future success of the UK construction sector”

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