As Brexit approaches us, the whole industry is now starting to get nervous and all of a sudden, it's like a button has been pressed and I am on the receiving end of clients asking me what Lucas are doing to plan for it.
Clearly this concern relates to the UK skills shortage and the fact that our workforce is mainly made up of EU nationals who might pack up and leave.
Of course if this happens, we are all in trouble.
None of us can change the world, Brexit is happening in whatever shape or form it occurs and that’s a fact.
With regards the UK skills shortage, I don’t believe much can be done without a massive change that needs a pretty big sledgehammer.
For at least 25 years, I have struggled to get quality candidates from colleges and like most other specialist tier two contractors I work alongside, we all sight the countless flops we have encountered with apprentices not making the cut after only a few weeks or months as they came out of college or their place of training having learned nothing about working on site for a firm and then get a wake up call when faced with having to arrive on site from 7am every day ready to start work at at 8 and produce the goods.
Added to this, the CITB who are supposed to be there to assist us, have cut our grant further in the last year, now leaving us out of pocket for crucial on-site training required by the industry.
The result today is there to be seen - only 9% of our workforce is British and getting most college students interested is an uphill battle that falls on deaf ears and ends up with a poor outcome.
THE LUCAS COLLEGE PROGRAMME
Nearly 3 years ago, I decided to go it alone and up my game to make a difference. I called it the Lucas College Programme and I targeted 90 x colleges in Britain with an amazing proposition that was a “to die for” almost X factor opportunity.
I produced entry forms, online material and posters for all of the classrooms, I got two big names on board, Dulux and Knauf and Go Construct endorsed it along with Constructing Excellence.
Each college was contacted beforehand with a proper introduction and then given hand-held instructions on how to deploy the campaign to their students. Dead easy, a poster set for the classroom walls or notice board and some entry forms pointing you to a weblink. Each college was also presented one of our amazing award winning Lucas ProFinish brushes in a presentation box to act as a symbol of quality and inspiration to fire the students up for the competition.
It couldn't have been simpler and we thought we were on to a winner that would turn the industry on its head and create a new way of employers working with colleges.
The campaign would involve each student, submitting an entry with supporting material and shortlisted candidates would then be trained in a state-of-the-art innovation centre at the Knauf UK HQ and a brand-new training academy at Dulux where they would be immersed in new technologies, quality and innovation in the world of paint and spray plaster. They would also be coached and assessed one to one by some of Dulux’s leading painting teachers and Lucas managers and then being given a chance to work on one of our famous projects (Bloomberg, Nova, Tate etc.) followed by a tour of the McLaren F1 facility where Lucas are technology partners to see our work, learn about the future of paint and coatings.
The pinnacle would be an awards ceremony at the McLaren Technology Centre with their family, covered by industry press and a presentation of a Lucas trophy by Fernando Alonso in front of the F1 car and to top it off, a job offer at Lucas.
The campaign received much praise and media attention and the Evening Standard even wrote a full page article on it which was the trigger that inspired me to later write my own book Get The Tin Out & Paint The World which I launched in March this year to help inspire kids in to construction.
On the face of it, we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to cope with all of the applications.
4 weeks on, to our disbelief not one college applied. With this, an army of us at Lucas got on the phones and emails to each college leaving messages and bombarding them to make sure they knew the deadline was looming.
Still no one came back to us and we had no applications.
We couldn’t believe it, we had assumed that college tutors would be going into overdrive and queuing up to put their best students forward.
In the end, we extended the 8 week entry period by a further 4 weeks.
Not one application was received!
The whole campaign had been a complete waste of time and we even discovered from a painting manager at one of the colleges that the college head had put our posters in the bin saying it was all too much hassle and kept the brush for himself.
To say I was outraged was an understatement. Not having ever been deeply involved with FE, I was horrified to learn that the very organisations we fund with our taxes to help give our kids job opportunities were actually denying them the chance in favour of their own personal agenda to do nothing.
A meeting shortly after to discuss what had happened with a close ally, Bob Noseda who was introduced to me many years earlier due to his involvement on London 2012, revealed that this was the norm. “Welcome to the world of FE’s and all of the organisations surrounding them that are full of “imposters” with their own agenda” he said.
THE LUCAS COLLEGE PROGRAMME MK II - PART 1
A year on, I changed tact, the new Lucas College Programme would now see us partner with a well-established college in London and become a satellite centre so that we could drive our own training with an internal training manager and act as our own “virtual college”.
Equipped with our own City and Guilds registration number, we committed to invest over £100k in the first year (this has actually exceeded £150k in the end), and really drive this forward from within.
To support our efforts and keep our overhead costs down, Lucas could draw financial support from the college who would share a portion of the funding with us after processing our completed applications as they were not having to do any of the donkey work.
It seemed like a marriage made in heaven and the college head was completely behind us even asking me to attend various promotional events and putting me on the panel of their very own Question Time panel with industry leaders to answer questions from the students.
A year on and the reality makes sad reading.
The college in question has been a nightmare to deal with. The team tasked with looking after us have changed half a dozen times with no notice and continually lose our paperwork
Every call we make goes to voicemail and all emails bounce back with out of office replies saying "I am currently on annual leave".
Without any warning or advice, the head has left and no one knows what is going on.
Presently we have not had one training application signed off and no money paid.
We have now had to abandon our plans to continue training and tell 50 operatives to look elsewhere to get their NVQ assessments complete.
THE LUCAS COLLEGE PROGRAMME MK II - PART 2
An introduction to another college resulted in a commitment from them almost 3 months ago to take over and work with us.
This has now fallen over as we have been unable to get a reply to any of our requests to process the paperwork to on-board us to the system.
The outcome is a complete disaster and we have now had to abandon the whole project and lay off our internal college training manager.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
It is abundantly clear that the current system is a cancer to our construction industry and actually fuels the skills shortage.
If, what we are experiencing here was happening in any commercial organisation, everybody would be sacked yet FE’s and the bodies around them all hide behind red tape and skiving to do as little as possible whilst denying the students an opportunity.
How is this teaching kids work ethic and helping industry?
Tier two sub-contractors who are the ones that employ the tradespeople to do the work on site, pay the CITB levy every month and write out the pay checks every week are on their own with no support from the CITB themselves or government and there doesn’t seem to be any solution in sight anytime soon.
It must be a UK culture thing among colleges and the system is rotten to the core.
I can speak with a completely clear conscience when I say this as I have had first-hand experience that there is no support whatsoever and the situation I have encountered is rife in every corner of the country.
OUR PLANS FOR BREXIT
What I have learned is that the work ethic and attitude of my Lucas workforce is second to none and admirable. There’s no bullshit, they just roll their sleeves up and graft. They love what they do and they do it with a smile. They sacrifice leaving their home countries to make a better life for their families and they earn bloody good money and deservedly so. Without them we would not have an industry.
Lucas have been able to deliver an excellent high-quality service because of the attitude of a great workforce. This allows us to build a solid forward order book and pipeline of opportunities with repeat order business, this in turn allows us to pay the best rates and give our workforce the best conditions and a certain future.
It’s a simple solution and it works. It fuels itself and drives progress.
Until we remove the obstacle that is the FE establishments, poisoning our future UK workforce and preventing them connecting with decent employers the UK skills shortage in construction will never be fixed. Brexit or no Brexit!
The tier two contractors & specialists are the colleges that can train the workforce and inspire them to work properly, just cut the middle man out and fund us to do the job. We'll do it a hundred times better and more efficiently as we are businesses that need to get the job done, not departments whose only agenda is to duck and dive.
In the meantime, my message to my clients on Brexit is simple. We plan to continue our focus on internal training, innovation & technology so we can deliver the very best service and quality. This will keep Lucas a Brexit-proof business allowing us to continue investing in a productive business model with no waste, pay our people well and attract more to work for us from the "virtual college" that exists outside the UK FE system where common sense and a great work ethic is the norm.
As the Farmer Review was aptly named, "Modernise or Die", this has never been truer for FE's and as Bob Noseda used to say on London 2012, If you want to work in construction, you have to be MAD - Motivation, Attitude & Desire.