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Looking further to fill our hard-to-fill vacancies

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The Change 100 programme, run by Leonard Cheshire, provides valuable opportunities and learning for both industry and students or recent graduates with long-term health conditions or disabilities. Candidates gain paid experience, confidence, networks and skills as they begin their careers, and employers are granted access to additional talent pools.

Participating in this programme provided a way for Costain Skanska joint venture (CSjv) to find suitable candidates for hard-to-fill vacancies driven by industry skills shortages, while at the same time instigating a cultural change in perception of what a disability means in the workplace.

Future projects and programmes can learn from the practical recommendations and successful outcomes of CSjv’s structured approach to the Change 100 programme. This paper will be of interest to employers looking to broaden the diversity of their talent pools and recruit suitable candidates who might not be reached through traditional processes.

Background and industry context

In the UK, 19% of working-age people have a disability.[1] Of these, only 52.1% were in employment between July and September 2020, compared with 81.3% of working-age non-disabled people.[2] This represents a large pool of capable talent, looking for employment and opportunities to develop their skills.

The award-winning Change 100 programme is a six-month talent programme for students or recent graduates with long-term health conditions or disabilities. Run by Leonard Cheshire, participants complete a six-month training and development programme, during which they also complete a three-month paid work experience placement. The calibre of students is exceptional – all have achieved or are predicted a 2:1 or First-Class degree – and the range of expertise and skills in the scheme means that an employer is very likely to find a student with skills to support their business.

For Costain Skanska joint venture (CSjv) working on the High Speed Two (HS2) Enabling Works Contract, finding enough candidates to fill large amounts of open vacancies can be a challenge. At peak, CSjv had 130 roles advertised, with some taking over 100 days to find a suitable candidate and fill the position due to industry skills shortages.

Hard-to fill vacancies are here defined based on the anticipated duration to find a candidate (over 100 days) and/or the number of vacancies to fill (for example significant volumes of quantity surveyors in an already saturated market). CSjv used the Change 100 programme to gain access to suitable candidates who might not have otherwise been reached through traditional recruitment processes, due to factors including fear of discrimination: 77% of students and recent graduates with disabilities or long-term health conditions say that their greatest concern about being open with employers during the recruitment process is being discriminated against, and not being open about a disability or long-term health condition can lead to suitable candidates being overlooked.[3]

This approach helped CSjv to solve the challenge of hard-to-fill vacancies with suitable and qualified candidates while also supporting the industry to diversify.

Approach

Before advertising for a Change 100 student, CSjv analysed which vacancies would be hard to fill. In 2017, this analysis revealed that ecology and BIM roles posed the most risk to be delayed due to lack of qualified candidates. Next, the job description for these roles were reviewed to ensure they were suitable for graduates or early careers. Change 100 then advertised the role and assisted with interviews to find a suitable student.

CSjv created a structured three-month work experience programme. This structure ensured that the experience was useful for the student, and that the tasks and training were tailored to the recruitment needs of the project.

Programme

  • Full project induction in the first week, with multiple site tours throughout the three months.
  • Timetable of activities for the first month – meetings with stakeholders, the client and the team, ongoing training opportunities on the project and introductions to other graduates on the project.
  • Objectives set for the first month by the CSjv line manager. Objectives reviewed after one month, and re-set with the student for the following two months.
  • Paired with a trained buddy/mentor to support professional development and broaden the student’s professional network.
  • Mid-programme and end-of-programme review – this feedback was essential to use to decide if the student should be considered for a full-time role.
  • Training and development days scheduled with other Change 100 students on the project, and with the wider cohort.

Two weeks before the programme was due to end, the line manager and student sat down together to review progress and objectives. They discussed the student’s aspirations and potential job prospects on the project to determine if a permanent position could be offered.

Outcomes and learning

In 2017, CSjv hosted one person directly through the Change 100 programme, and has now hosted a total of four people through the programme.

Feedback from the Change 100 programme has consistently shown how valuable the internship was for students. The value of the programme for CSjv has been how this learning has transferred both ways.

The Change 100 programme not only supports people with disabilities to enter the industry, but changes perceptions of what a disability means in the workplace. The host team increases their awareness of reasonable adjustments, and the value that someone with a disability can contribute.

Feedback from line managers attested to the fact that hosting a Change 100 student had a positive impact on the team and challenged perceptions about staff with a disability. Whereas 32% of people think that disabled people are not as productive as non-disabled people, 100% of CSjv line managers agreed that the programme had changed their perception about employing people with disabilities.[4]

Real-life application of reasonable adjustments (as opposed to training and awareness alone) taught teams how to integrate and support a disabled person into employment, and forced changes in ways of working that were long overdue. This was an added bonus to the programme, opening the door for further programmes in future, and challenging misconceptions and unconscious bias.

The Change 100 programme opened additional talent pools from which CSjv could recruit. This was especially beneficial for roles which are typically hard to fill. Without the Change 100 programme, CSjv would have needed to place temporary agency staff in vacant posts. The cost of participating in the programme was smaller than the agency fee.

A testimonial from a CSjv Works Package Manager and Change 100 Line Manager reiterated this learning: “It’s been a busy few months on the project… our intern has slotted into the core team very easily and taken on responsibility with minimal support. She has provided essential support to the larger environment team and produced a quality of work that suggests she has been in the role for a number of months rather than weeks.”

Recommendations

Change 100 are on-hand to provide practical support and materials for the student, line manager and wider team. Before creating a new resource, etc., it is useful to check if the Change 100 team have already created something similar.

Providing a structured programme for the student is what makes this programme a success. Agreeing objectives and key tasks early on ensures that the student can learn, and that the project can gain from their skills.

The students from the programme are capable, driven and employable. Checks should be made to ensure that internal processes can support reasonable adjustments required.

Conclusion

The Change 100 programme provides a means for a contractor to fill vacancies resulting from industry skills shortages, for both technical and core roles, while at the same time supporting industry efforts to diversify.

For CSjv, participating in the programme has also provided wider advantages, including educating staff on reasonable adjustments to the benefit of existing and future colleagues, and changing perceptions of people working in the construction industry.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to our Change 100 interns, the team at Leonard Cheshire and the hiring managers who provided placements.

References

[1] Department for Work and Pensions. Family Resources Survey: financial year 2019 to 2020. [internet]. 2021 Mar 25 [cited 2021 Aug 12]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/family-resources-survey-financial-year-2019-to-2020/family-resources-survey-financial-year-2019-to-2020#disability-1.

[2] Office for National Statistics. Outcomes for disabled people in the UK: 2020. [internet]. 2021 Feb 18 [cited 2021 Aug 12]. Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/disability/articles/outcomesfordisabledpeopleintheuk/latest.

[3] MyPlus. Openness: Understanding why students are reluctant to be open with employers about their disability. [internet]. 2015 [cited 2021 Oct 21]. Available from: https://www.myplusconsulting.com/openness.

[4] Scope. The disability perception gap. [internet]. 2018 May [cited 2021 Aug 12]. Available from: https://www.scope.org.uk/campaigns/disability-perception-gap/.

[5] Learning Legacy Paper.  Becoming a Disability Confident Employer