When your company is the UK’s largest family-owned commercial decorators and maintenance specialists, every link in your extensive supply chain has to meet the most exacting quality standards.
Nowhere is this robust criteria applied more stringently than in training and development, since consistently high quality training – for a diverse and geographically-spread workforce – is key to helping maintain that market leading position within a fiercely-competitive marketplace.
Yet Bell Group’s hard-won status as the head of this particular industry pack is no idle boast. The company’s client list includes the Royal Household, National Trust and Ministry of Defence as well as BT, Barratt Homes and Scotrail together with a host of health trusts, housing associations, local authorities, engineering contractors and arts and culture venues.
Julie Lawrenson is Bell Group’s Head of Apprenticeships, Compliance and Funding, with a national remit to support the company’s professional development programme geared towards meeting the vocational training needs of over 1,500 employees spread across more than 32 branch locations nationwide. The company is one of the UK’s largest recruiters of apprentices in the sector, achieving 10% of the company’s current workforce as apprentices in training.
Having worked previously with Esteem Training’s founder Trudy Mackenzie and Operations Director Martina Höfner to develop bespoke content for leadership and senior management programmes, Julie was familiar with Esteem’s expertise in construction supervisory and management training. Building on those foundations, Esteem Training is now one of Bell Group’s approved providers of vocational qualifications.
Julie explains how the preferred status relationship came about: “When first joining Bell Group, I noticed that the rich depth of competencies held within our teams wasn’t reflected at every level across the business. Where employees had progressed in their roles they didn’t necessarily have an industry-recognised qualification to underpin that expertise. It made sense to have the Esteem Training team, as respected and accredited trainers, work with our staff to support them through securing an appropriate mix of site supervision and construction site management SVQs, funded by Skills Development Scotland.
“We make no bones that the bar is set very high for anyone wishing to become a Bell Group preferred supplier. Our decisions are never motivated by lowest cost. They’re driven by a robust training needs analysis balanced against staff competencies and the candidate’s ability to complete the training programme.
“There has to be a personal relationship based on trust, specialist local knowledge, extensive sector expertise and high candidate success rates, together with a flexible approach and regular ongoing candidate support where assessors work closely with our candidates and know them personally.
“Esteem scores highly for all of these elements when it comes to supervisory and management qualifications, and have adapted well and supported candidates with the switch to virtual learning. Esteem’s digital platforms dovetail nicely with our IT infrastructure and their digital approach is efficient and lets us maximise employee downtime. I’ve sat in on review sessions and the feedback from our team has been universally positive.”
Kevin McCue, Bell Group Contract Manager agrees: “We began training at the start of our lockdown since we were all working from home. I thought this was a positive development as it helped us put downtime to good use.
“We were sorted into groups of three, with David Currie as our assessor. We all connected through WhatsApp video calling which worked really well, with David delivering the course in an easy and understanding way then leaving us with work to complete in time for the following session.
“The course itself was great and helped bring things to front of mind that can sometimes be overlooked. All in all, a well presented course that I enjoyed being part of.”
Scott Ferguson, Bell Group Operations Manager adds: “After a couple of days training, the remainder of our course had to be completed online due to COVID restrictions, with communications channelled through our Training Officer. All information or assistance arrived easily and I could always contact David at any time for advice and support.
“Each module was explained and completed before we moved on to the next one. Overall, I’ll be booking future courses for other members of my team to gain good qualifications relevant to their line of work.”
Bell Group maximises staff development funding available through Skills Development Scotland – incentives, Julie notes, not similarly available across the other nations.
Restricted working has proven less of a challenge for Bell Group compared with some industry sectors. Around 300 staff continue to work from home and some social housing projects have had to be curtailed in Scotland however work on the majority of programmes has continued with minimal disruption.
Looking to the future, Julie concludes: “Whilst there is a business need to upskill our employees, we will continue to work with Esteem Training to ensure employees have the relative qualifications. Their supportive approach and high candidate success rate helps to demonstrate return on our significant investment in employee training. Facilitating a successful candidate journey is the reason I love my job because I know I’m making a positive contribution to the working lives of our talented teams.”