Hampshire County Council’s Construction Skills projects have trained over 2000 people for work in the construction industry, supporting over 1000 of these into employment using its Employment and Skills Plans and local employers with best social value for Hampshire residents.
The construction industry remains strong in Hampshire, however a widening skills and labour gap in the sector leaves a shortage of people available to fill the jobs. Over the last year, funding for the Construction Skills Fund (CSF) project ended but was succeeded by new ESF project Technical Construction Skills for the Unemployed (TCS).
The CSF project ran from Oct 2018 – Sept 2021, training delivery ended in March 2021. It aimed to address significant skills shortages in the construction industry by supporting new entrants into the sector via Pre-employment training opportunities. The CSF team ensured Hampshire residents could access the training regardless of personal circumstances which enabled the life-changing potential of the project to reach Hampshire’s diverse communities. Over 1800 people accessed training throughout the project and we know that more than 920 went into construction work as a result.
Since then, Hampshire County Council’s TCS project has worked within the EM3 LEP area with nearly 600 people, often a long way from the job market, and has used its Employment and Skills Plans to get people into work with best social value for Hampshire residents. Post COVID-19, this project has continued the valuable work of CSF and makes a considerable contribution to Hampshire’s skills-based recovery plan.
The aim of Hampshire County Council’s construction projects remains to address the continuing skills gap in the local construction sector; general operative roles are plentiful and the industry is in urgent need for new entrants. The CSF project had become well established and supported by a recognised body. This made transferring to the new ESF funding stream challenging, although a similar project, it’s provision was to cover a new area (EM3 LEP) also the eligibility criteria and target participant demographics altered. Furthermore, the project was met with referral network competition for participants which came from a wide range of government led, highly funded and prioritised COVID-19 recovery programmes for the unemployed. Our challenge was to continue negotiating these hurdles, ensure the pathway into work for the county’s unemployed population was robust and increase the diversity of the construction workforce.
To provide a job pipeline, the Employment and Skills Hub at Hampshire County Council continues to demonstrate good practice in designing ESPs (Employment and Skills Plans), which enable construction companies to engage with major infrastructure projects procured by the council. The challenge remains to combine this long-term partnership work with the shorter-term project objectives and to get trained potential employees to some of the more remote ESP sites for work, an inherent problem of Hampshire’s geography.
Pre-Employment pathways that would support the skills gap and numbers of new construction employees in the area was updated for the TCS project to focus on entry level roles; general trades, traffic marshalling, modern methods of construction and some highways/civil engineering related qualifications.
Quality pre-employment training like this forms part of Hampshire County Council’s skills-led recovery plan and is delivered across the EM3 LEP area via four training providers, OFSTED rating Good or Outstanding.
Developers linked to ESPs achieve their social value obligations by offering work experience and jobs to the project’s completers. The council’s partnerships with local authorities, through which good quality ESPs are designed, will create further opportunities for jobs and training during the ongoing economic recovery. The project’s firm governance and stakeholder links roots this construction project firmly in its local context, this enabled an agile response to the COVID-19 crisis and developers and employers in the EM3 LEP area to fill their skills gap by employing the qualified project participants.
During the construction projects to date, over 2,350 individuals have been trained, with over 1000 starting jobs to date. This brings the job start achievement close to 50% of all those that engaged in training. The total project funding generated so far is £2.7 million in Hampshire and the projects’ success has enabled a further fund has been secured to support a construction job retention support scheme in the coming year.
Over 1000 people from non-traditional entry routes are included in the participants, such as women, including people from minority ethnic groups and 800 living with disabilities. Case studies on individuals showed the life-changing potential of the project.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The council has secured £320k to support a construction job retention support scheme in the coming year. This will further assist the sector’s skills gap by ensuring a greater number of new entrants stay in their roles reducing the need for constant newcomers. Through the County Council’s collaboration with lower tier district council planning authorities and ESPs, we continue to support sustainable growth of employment and skills opportunities for local residents, in turn supporting the skills challenges faced by employers in the sector.
The construction projects have been a huge success: 92 per cent of responders said that CSF training helped them apply for a job in construction, according to the National Evaluation Experiences Online. Participants in the TCS have commented that without the training they would not be in work and their lives would not be on an upward trajectory. A robust project plan from the start, a strong steering group, meaningful referral pathways as well as a highly motivated and committed staff team all contributed to this.
Job outcomes depend on a collaborative model using the engaged stakeholder group to address immediate skill shortages and vary training accordingly. Early interventions with new employers and employment agencies turned the problem of employment targets into a feature of success.
Regular contract management meetings have helped the project team adapt to frequent changes on the project as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, as well as assessing course quality and project progress.
The project team adapted their ways of working to reflect the changing situations cross the year which resulted in unexpected benefits, including improved working relationships in a remote setting, faster turnaround in referrals, lower carbon footprint of the project and efficient problem solving through speedy virtual meetings.
Understanding the needs of participants after the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were lifted has promoted the development of a greater support and communication plan to ensure they were able to attend and benefit from the training offer.