Michael Doolin, founder, and Group Managing Director of Clover HR, gives his thoughts on the importance of employee engagement to tackle the skills crisis in the demolishing industry.
1. Tell us about your experience within the built environment sector throughout your HR career
I’ve had the pleasure of working in senior HR positions for the past 36 years, many of which have been spent supporting unionised and non-unionised businesses within the built environment sector, especially within the spheres of distribution and manufacturing. I have been involved in everything from creating management structures and training programmes, to generating initiatives that increase diversity in the workplace. Mainly though, my work has revolved around recruitment and retention of skilled workers.
2. Why is staff retention a growing concern in the demolition industry?
Let's face it, demolition is not a particularly “sexy industry”, and it's not attracting people to it like it did before. It’s tough, demanding, highly skilled, and pressurised. Therefore many people would rather take an easier option. Millennials especially are more likely to leave a job if they’re not happy with it, rather than stick it out for the money. Work life balance is therefore a priority for them, and if they feel their needs and concerns are not being met, they will be on their way.
High turnover is always costly in terms of time and investment spent on skills, training, and onboarding, but for SMEs especially, it can be crippling, if not deadly. The result is they may choose not to develop the talent they have. Because employees don’t feel valued or engaged, they are more likely to leave, which creates a destructive, self-perpetuating cycle that only damages the demolition industry further.
It’s sad to think that the built environment is the foundation of the UK economy and essential for its growth, yet the whole sector is struggling to hire and retain skilled workers. It’s well known that around 225,000 construction workers may be needed by 2027 according to the Construction Skills Network, but little is being done outside of the sector itself to help meet this target. The government for instance is far too focussed on turning the UK into the next Silicon Valley, rather than creating the talent pool that is needed to meet their own national housing target of building 300,000 net new homes per year by the mid-2020s. Hopefully this will change in light of the Raac concrete crisis, which needs skilled operatives to solve and kickstart the rebuilding process.
3. You’re a huge proponent of the power of employment engagement. Has the demolition industry embraced this concept, and if not, why should they?
Employee engagement is all about improving your employees' connection to their work and your company. Unfortunately, it’s been treated as an afterthought for far too long, but I do believe this attitude is changing, albeit extremely slowly. In my experience and opinion, far more needs to be done to embrace it, because making even minor implementations, will lead to more motivated and devoted staff. I’ve seen it a number of times, when failing companies are completely turned around in terms of performance, as a result of their teams becoming highly engaged with their work, because senior management has taken HR practice seriously rather than pay lip service to it.
If a demolition company wants to reap the benefits of employee engagement, a good starting point is to coach and encourage your managers to have constant conversations with staff about their work, how they feel about it, the ways that it can be improved, and how it fits into the success of the business. Done right, this should make them feel valued, but unfortunately, most managers don't know how to make such conversations meaningful, so their actions are more likely to be interpreted as micromanaging, unless they are provide with the right advice and guidance. This can be achieved by developing robust HR management programmes, which ensure the importance of the workforce is recognised.
4. How do we attract more people to the industry, especially school leavers and graduates?
The first step is for the industry to take decisive steps to showcase the strategic importance of what the industry does. It is far too often taken for granted. The reality is, that demolition is the key to the regeneration of the UK’s infrastructure, and therefore its economy, business, and local communities. That means that demolition companies and member organisations need to actively engage with schools, universities, the media. and even the government, to fly the flag for demolition.
Anyone thinking about a career in demolition needs to be made aware of the opportunities for advancement and shown what they need to do to take the next steps on the ladder, especially if they are women or from a minority background. That means working closely with careers advisors, who too often, don’t have a clue as to what the job entails and need to be educated and advised.
Finally I think the demolition industry has an image problem and this needs to be rectified quickly. When people think about demolition, they imagine wrecking balls and polluting clouds of dust. This is reinforced by the media, who is only too eager to reinforce this image with negative opinion pieces, rather than highlighting how the industry has worked hard to green itself and actually profits from recycling.
5. Do you think there are other talent pools that the industry has overlooked that might be a suitable source of employees?
As I mentioned earlier, the industry needs to boost its underrepresentation of women and ethic minorities, but I also believe more can be done to attract older workers looking to change career, ex-armed forces personnel, ex-offenders, and those in the retail industry, which is currently seeing massive layoffs. Other industries have failed to engage with these people, so there is a perfect opportunity for the demolition industry to steal a march on them!
Written by John Bowen