Much has been written regarding the talent shortfall looming for the Scottish construction industry due to the predicted departure of a significant cohort of experienced professionals eligible to retire over the next five years. It’s possible that this projected exodus of expertise may acutely impact the civil engineering sector, where large numbers of new entrants arrive having first spent four or more years in full-time education securing a bachelor’s or masters degree in one of several specialist engineering disciplines.
Succession planning, involving meticulous preparation geared towards maintaining continuity of expertise and client service to protect hard-won reputations, has unsurprisingly moved into sharp focus within the civils sector including for long-term Esteem Training client and CECA Scotland (Civil Engineering Contractors Association) member, George Leslie.
Founded in Glasgow in 1964 and still privately owned, George Leslie’s teams have established a solid reputation as resourceful infrastructure contractors, capable of delivering high quality solutions for a diverse range of civil engineering projects in sectors including road and rail, marine and power, telecommunications, water and wastewater, and renewable energy.
Supporting senior team members, while simultaneously upskilling younger and less experienced employees, continues to represent a key factor in the company’s ongoing success as Scottish market leader. As a matter of course, construction teams based on site at geographically-diverse locations work closely with specialist office-based staff skilled in project development, design coordination, planning and programming, and risk management. The company’s deeply-ingrained commitment to staff training has been recognised with a clutch of industry awards including the Gold Standard for Investors in Young People.
Investment in staff development and stringent performance standards
Alan Kirkwood, QSE Manager at George Leslie explains: “Our working relationship with Esteem Training goes back at least eight or more years. I’m incredibly choosy about who we work with since we have invested heavily in developing stringent staff performance standards and robust work procedures that have to be enforced, and not simply because we work on high profile public sector contracts. Much of our business has been won precisely because of those rigorous in-house standards, so I was looking for an education partner with a similar focus on excellence who would provide active coaching and support for learning that closely mirrored our own. And I can say, from personal experience, finding that kind of committed partner can be a tall order.
“We’re long-term members of CECA and I’m involved with the Scottish Civils Training Group, so standards are incredibly important to me as delivering quality training for our workforce is one of my key roles within the company.
“For that reason I was initially sceptical about bringing Esteem Training on board, however their teams have more than met the challenge. They consistently deliver for our candidates, coaching them through securing vocational training awards in occupational work supervision (OWS), construction site supervision (CSS) and construction site management (CSM) – and that’s exactly what we need. Since the pandemic, they’ve adapted well by pivoting to deliver the same high quality training in an exclusively virtual environment.”
“But the proof of the pudding must always lie in post-course feedback from our staff, allied to successful course completion rates. Did they feel supported throughout? Did the instructors invest time in getting to know them personally and respond to their needs, including identifying any additional support that some learners can require? I’m happy to say that the feedback from every course continues to be excellent. As a result, we’ve forged a really strong, mutually-advantageous partnership with Esteem Training.”
High profile client projects and superstar candidates
Esteem Training assessor Nicola Thom has worked extensively with Alan: “George Leslie’s teams work on a hugely-diverse range of interesting infrastructure projects such as the refurbishment of the Loch Katrine Aqueduct for Scottish Water and the Tidal Weir project for Glasgow City Council. These projects involve pressurised deadlines and exacting performance parameters. The calibre of candidates that George Leslie puts forward for our OWS, CSS and CSM SVQ Levels 3 and 4 courses are, without exception, talented, focused and well briefed regarding their internal working processes and structures. That level of awareness gives them a head start with regard to course content.
“I’ve coached a number of genuine superstar candidates from the George Leslie team. By working with us, they’ve sailed through the course elements of all three SVQs in occupational work supervision, construction site supervision and construction site management. With that trio of awards under their belts, they’re well positioned to secure CSCS Gold and Black cards* and apply for professional accreditation with CIOB** or the ICE***.”
Mutual support reinforcing personal success
Working together over many years has forged a strong partnership underpinned by mutual trust and respect, such that Alan Kirkwood and the Esteem Training assessors have assisted one another in gaining personal qualifications. For example, Alan acted as facilitator for Nicola’s fellow assessor, David Currie who required live construction site access to collect evidence in order to complete his SVQ Level 4 in construction site management.
This followed on from Esteem Training’s Quality Manager, Debbie Knights assisting Alan in securing his Internal Verifier qualification, as awarded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, reconfirming his status as George Leslie’s professional in-house trainer and assessor. In addition, Alan’s colleague Steve McSorley worked with Esteem Training’s assessor David Currie in securing his Assessor qualification, as awarded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, assisting Steve with the written elements required for qualification as a confined space training instructor.
Alan concludes: “Continuing to invest in upskilling our teams remains key to maintaining our position as one of Scotland’s premier civil engineering contractors, and features heavily in our long-term succession planning. It’s incredibly rewarding for me to witness colleagues whom I first worked with as fresh-faced 17 year-old trainee engineers now managing multi-million pound client contracts, all across the country.
George Leslie Director, Tony Fry added: “There’s no question that it makes sound business sense to have qualified teams contributing across every working discipline within the company, however it runs deeper than that. Technology and innovation don’t stand still and nor can we, and so the commitment to invest in our staff runs through the company’s DNA. Our teams understand that, and regularly feed back that they appreciate our investment in their professional development and our commitment to develop their potential in order that they can have fulfilling, long-term careers with the company.”
* CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme)
** CIOB (Chartered Institute of Building)
*** ICE (Institution of Civil Engineers)