Finding and retaining the best: Story Homes

June 5, 2018 / Keith Osborne
Finding and retaining the best: Story Homes

Shelley Hayward, head of HR and development at Story Homes, speaks to us about the ambitious housebuilder’s recent recruitment goals, how the company tackles the training and retention of staff, and what potential candidates for future roles can do to maximise their chances.

Please tell us a little about yourself, your role and Story Homes.

I joined Story Homes nearly four years ago as talent and development manager, supporting the business with its growth plans, and I am pleased to have recently taken on the role of head of HR and development. This is a really good example of the commitment we have made as a business to retaining talented staff and helping them to progress.

Prior to my role at Story Homes I worked in the logistics industry at companies including Bidfood, WH Smith and Wincanton, where I held a Europe-wide role. When the opportunity arose here, I relocated with my family to Cumbria from Wiltshire as it was too good of an opportunity to miss. I was attracted to Story Homes for a number of reasons – it is a family business, the housebuilding industry fascinated me as we can all relate to the product we create and I really liked that the business had such clear growth plans.

What sort of talent have you been taking on recently?

At the moment we have a real focus on taking on trainee site managers across our regions – Cumbria and South West Scotland, the North East and the North West. This involves identifying talented people from different trades and those from outside the industry who can support with site manager responsibilities.

Other priorities include recruiting for roles within our commercial department – primarily quantity surveyors – as well as entry level positions across the business.

Apprenticeships continue to be very important to us too, both in the office and out on site.

Has the national skills shortage across housebuilding generally been a problem for you, or in specific skill sets? 

Fortunately, as we have a really thorough and planned recruitment programme we have been able to be proactive with regards to the skills gap. Where we have seen high demand in our business for certain roles, such as in commercial and site management, this reflects what is happening within the wider industry, so we all need to work to try and improve this situation.

We will be continuing to recruit as per our plans and the skills shortage will remain in the back of our minds. As a family business we are committed to engaging with schools and our communities to drive an appreciation and understanding of the breadth of roles within our industry. Part of the challenge is challenging the assumptions about the industry; we have had really good success by engaging with parents early on and inviting them to our apprenticeship recruitment events.

I am pleased to say that we haven’t had any trouble in filling our 12 apprentice roles annually so we are optimistic, although we have seen evidence of the skills shortage with subcontractors’ reluctance to invest in apprentices. To address this, we have been doing work to support our subcontractors, up-skill them in apprenticeship programmes, and have hosted supply chain engagement events in conjunction with the Home Builders Federation.

We always reinvest back in the front line – we are part of The 5% Club, which means we have made a pledge that 5% of our recruitment is in future talent. The average age of our employees is mid to late 30s, which is quite low for the construction industry so we can see some of our efforts starting to pay off.

Are there any strong links to colleges/training providers that are particularly fruitful when recruiting young people?

We work well with the CITB and we involve them really early on in our apprentice attraction and assessment processes. We can utilise their expertise and support in attracting new apprentices and this has proved very valuable.

We have been keen to forge links with local schools to establish a more organised approach to work experience, and this has been very beneficial for us as well as for the schools and students.

A key activity that we have been involved with in Cumbria for several years is the Dream Placement scheme, co-ordinated by the Centre for Leadership Performance. We are one of more than 25 organisations that support the initiative, hosting week-long placements for students from local schools. The aim of the scheme is to attract talent, highlight how local businesses operate, and show young people the breadth of opportunities available in the county.

Are there ways in which candidates can improve their chances?

Applicants must set themselves apart. For apprentices and graduates, it is not just about work experience – we would also like to hear about any volunteering or relevant projects undertaken at school.

In the face-to-face interviews, the individual’s fit with our company values is key. A common mistake is to put on a front in an interview, when we really want interviewees to be themselves and be human – not robotic or overly corporate in how they respond to questions.  Being a family business means that we sincerely want to know about you, what truly attracts you to the industry and why you want to work for Story Homes.

It’s always important to do your research before an interview, and we have a careers microsite that can really help candidates understand the business – it includes employee profiles, information about our values, investment in our people and all the different departments that we have. Take the time to familiarise yourself with all of this and then in the interview, demonstrate how our values apply to you personally. Remember, the business wants to know why you would be a good fit.

Finally, always ask questions to the interviewer as it shows that you are enthusiastic and interested in the business and role.

Is Story Homes proud of certain elements of staff training, work environment and career progression it offers?

Yes, definitely – we genuinely are committed to developing our staff.

From the very start of an individual’s employment with us, they can see this commitment. We run a monthly corporate induction, where we have new starters ranging from stacker drivers to managing directors and they meet our founder and CEO, Fred Story. These sessions are great as everyone comes in on an equal footing and starts their Story Homes journey together.

In terms of training, we have a comprehensive Learning Portal that gives everyone access to e-learning materials, which they can use as and when they would like to enhance their knowledge or as part of their career development. We also run a Management Development Programme, which has seen our managers grow in confidence and leadership skills, and a Leadership Development Programme which has so far seen all participants promoted within a two-year period.

We are also proud of our trainee site management scheme, which enables us to guide and shape future site managers. This has successfully given us a strong pipeline of talented, Story Homes-trained site managers which is extremely useful for a growing business like ours.

All of these initiatives are developing as we speak – we are constantly trying to improve ways of working as the business expands and evolves.

With its expansion plans, what sort of roles is Story looking to recruit over the coming year and what’s the timetable?

We have seen huge and exciting growth over the last three years, and this coming year gives us a good opportunity for consolidation. Our objectives are to achieve operational effectiveness and focus on what we want to achieve, and recruitment will continue to play an important part of this.

The main areas of focus for recruitment will be technical, commercial and production, and this combined with increased focus on the quality of our build and the service we offer customers will enable us to get to where we want to be.

We always welcome a call or message from anyone who would like to work with us, even if we are not currently recruiting for a specific role.

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