We start the new year with an exclusive interview with Marion Forbes, a director of Mactaggart & Mickel Homes, the Glasgow-based housebuilder formed in 1925 that is now expanding its portfolio into prime locations in England, and she tells us about her own career and recruitment at the company.
Please tell us a little about yourself, Mactaggart & Mickel and your role there.
I have a degree in Business, specialising in Personnel and Management. Prior to joining Mactaggart & Mickel I held a number of HR roles, one of these with the retailer M&Co, where I led the development of various initiatives.
I joined Mactaggart & Mickel Homes in 2006. This award-winning, fourth-generation family housebuilder employs 279 people and takes pride in creating high-quality homes, providing a lasting legacy for future generations.
By 2008 I had instigated and led the company to secure a coveted Investor in People accolade and, in 2015 we achieved both Investor in People Gold and Investor in Young People. In 2011 I was given additional responsibility for our award-winning Health & Safety department and was also appointed a director of the company.
Our developments stretch across Scotland’s Central Belt and earlier this year we announced housebuilding expansion plans into England, applying for planning permission for two sites in Oxfordshire. We secured the first site, at Milton-under-Wychwood, in December 2017.
Outside of work, I chair a youth group and volunteer as a youth leader. Any remaining spare time is spent with my husband and two teenagers, and walking our beagle Fraser.
How many apprentices/graduates does the company take on and what sort of roles are they for?
Apprentices are vital to our long-term success, and we are committed to maintaining our apprenticeship programme to ensure we develop the skills and knowledge we will need in the future.
Many of our employees, including our chief executive, began their careers with us as apprentices and have gone on to achieve great professional success.
We normally recruit up to ten apprentices each year for roles such as bricklayer, roughcaster, plumber, joiner, painter, as well as administration and finance jobs.
What’s the typical balance between on-site work and more formal training/courses?
It’s a four-year programme and apprentices work to achieve an SVQ qualification. They attend college for around 19 weeks in the first year, and for 11 weeks in year two. We expect each apprentice to undertake the Advanced Craft in year three.
On completion, we encourage them to continue their studies to HNC level – and many do.
We have a formal mentor programme in place. The HR team work with the mentors, regularly reviewing performance to ensure the support is in place to allow each apprentice to achieve success.
Are there essential qualifications that applicants need?
Our apprentice recruitment drive takes place during March and April with employment usually starting towards the middle of August. As a rule of thumb, we ask for National 5 qualifications in Maths and English at A or B level, along with any other three National 5 qualifications. However, demonstrating a positive attitude and a can-do approach is just as important.
Selected candidates attend a formal interview and we like to see examples of work or ideas to support their application. They also attend an assessment centre where they undertake a range of activities. Successful applicants and their parents/guardians attend an induction evening where we stress the hard work that will be involved and give reassurances about how we use mentors to support each apprentice and ensure their health and safety at all times.
Are you experiencing a shortfall in the kind of candidates you’re looking for?
Yes, unfortunately. The calibre of candidates can at times be far from ideal. Construction offers fantastic career opportunities, however it can be the case that this is not always recognised by individuals whose job it is to advise young people, and therefore we don’t always see the brightest and best.
Are there advantages to training people from the start and keeping them on board?
Definitely. A good apprentice will absorb a great deal of information and skills in their first two years with us. From the third year, we begin to reap the benefits as their skills become more developed. And this trend continues the longer they stay with us. We are very proud that the average length of service with Mactaggart & Mickel Homes is 11 years.
What can be done to encourage more women into housebuilding?
A good question and one we wrestle with. Women are still the minority on site because, sadly, they tend not to apply in the first place. This is a situation that we – the construction industry – need to tackle because there are fantastic career opportunities in this sector.
Encouragingly we have several women in craft roles across our sites who are doing really well. We also have a strong female presence in our technical team and two female directors on the Board, including myself. This is unusual for this industry.
We also play our part in encouraging more women and young people to consider housebuilding an attractive career. We have a policy to ‘grow our own’ with a clear commitment to learning and development. Our Emerging Leader Initiative, for example, identifies and develops individuals with the potential for future leadership roles. Many talented women are part of this initiative.
Is there a Mactaggart & Mickel approach that might distinguish it from the opposition?
We are a fourth-generation, family-run, award-winning business that genuinely values its employees. We believe that you get out what you put in and are proud that so many employees not only choose to stay working for us, but also encourage their friends and family to join us too. We can open the door to an amazing career for people with the right attitude, drive and commitment to excel. You just need to knock!