Developing the next generation of talent



Jackie O’ Brien, Head of Learning and Development for Finning, talks about developing the next generation:

With 390,000 staff leaving the construction industry in the downturn since 2008 and according to recent Construction Industry Training Board data, a further 410,000 due to retire, there is a real need to attract new talent into the industry.

The plant sector is certainly not immune to the skills shortage issue and is probably under more pressure than other areas of construction to attract everyone from engineers to operators.

There are two main reasons for this: The first is the rapid development of new technology, which requires a different skill-set for maintaining equipment. The second is the scope of the different sectors in which we operate, from mining, quarrying, waste and recycling to a strong focus on plant hire in the general construction industry.

With ‘CPA Stars of the Future’ and social media campaigns like #BorntoBuild looking to attract young people into the construction industry and address the negative image associated with it, we can see that some work is being done. However, this alone will not be enough to cope with the demands and upturn of the construction market.

We as a sector need to work together far more collaboratively to attract talent, develop skills and celebrate success. We also need to give people a designated pathway to development throughout their career in the sector.

A good example of how collaborative working can deliver is the recent Gold Card standard training we have developed, partnering with the MPQC’s Awarding Body, MP Awards. By sharing best practice in operator training, Finning has already helped to up-skill operators in five of the major quarry businesses in the UK. We are setting new standards, focused on delivering higher levels of production and safety.

Equally, technology can play a part in identifying whether individuals really want to be a part of the industry. For example, potential future operators at Lynch Plant Hire are now able to try out what it takes to operate a machine on a newly purchased simulator, as Director Rob Lynch explains:

“We need to make sure potential operators really know what the job requires before we look to take them on. By having our own simulator we can give them an opportunity to virtually operate plant in a safe environment.”

Practical yet safe experience is essential in this industry and that is why more places on professional training and apprenticeship schemes are needed across the sector. Having brought the Finning apprenticeship scheme in-house, we know from experience that learning on the job is essential and that the development of mentoring can make a big impact.

But it is what lies beyond an apprenticeship that is important. The industry needs to recognise that it is our overall responsibility to continue investing in our talent if we are to keep it making a positive contribution to the sector.

Finning also has a key role to play in educating the rest of the construction industry when it comes to the use, maintenance and technological capabilities of modern plant. For example, the HSE is now calling for more skilled plant managers to ensure safer sites. These individuals used to be commonplace on sites, but with these skills lost over time the plant sector needs to support this initiative as part of a wider development of skills throughout the construction industry.

The plant sector has to make an essential contribution to the development of the next generation, so let’s embrace collaborative working and make a difference across the board.