This exclusive interview with Simon Taphouse, commercial and construction director of design-led developer Bewley Homes, takes us through what the company does in recruitment and training to attract and retain the best possible team.
Hi Simon, please tell us a little about yourself, Bewley Homes and your role there.
I joined Bewley Homes as commercial manager in 2006 and was appointed commercial and construction director in 2013. I am responsible for our commercial department and ensuring our sites are delivered on time and on budget – a remit which is growing increasingly challenge given the lack of skilled labour entering the workforce and the rising cost of goods and materials. Bewley currently has 13 sites under construction and employs around 100 people (a number which rises significantly when taking subcontractors into account). Finding and harbouring young talent is therefore an essential focus for our business and the industry as a whole going forward.
How many apprentices/graduates does the company take on, and for what sort of roles?
Bewley currently has four apprentices employed across a range of disciplines including our technical and construction department.
What’s the typical balance between on-site work and more formal training/courses?
This varies depending on the type of apprenticeship but each of our apprentices has a mentor and each is working towards acquiring professional accreditations funded by the company whilst at the same time working alongside an experienced and knowledgeable team. We have an open door policy which helps to ensure all staff, including our apprentices, feel fully supported and comfortable to ask questions and for advice where necessary.
Are there essential qualifications that applicants need?
Again, it depends on the type of apprenticeship but, on the whole it is less about the qualification and more about a candidate’s characteristics. We are looking for people who have a keenness to learn and to work their way up. There has to be a willingness to work hard, empathy with the environment, pride in what is accomplished and the ambition to succeed – all this within an industry which works under immense pressure, requiring teamwork to deliver results.
Are you experiencing a shortfall in the kind of candidates you’re looking for?
The lack of people entering the trade is of constant concern to the industry. I would appeal to anyone who is interested in entering the industry not to be swayed by social preconceptions – training on the job and working your way up is a great way to learn. I engage on a daily basis with our subcontractors – these are large companies who have all come ‘through the tools’ and have worked on site themselves. It was their ambition which took them from bricklayer to foreman and from foreman to running their own company now employing thousands of people.
Are there advantages to training people from the start and keeping them on board?
Bluntly, yes. Not only are you able to mentor them in best practice and the way in which your own organisation operates but you are also helping them to carve out their own careers and futures – which is immensely satisfying. When an apprentice joins Bewley, they are joining a firm that will support them first in training and secondly in the growth and promotion of a career.
What can be done to encourage more women into housebuilding?
One of our current site-based female apprentices is undertaking an extended diploma course in construction and the build environment and she is one of only two women on that particular course. Ask her why and she will tell you that more needs to be done to increase student’s awareness of the options available to them. I would argue this needs to be done at an earlier stage of school life – well ahead of GCSE choices.
The responsibility for this lies both with the schools and with the industry itself. Whilst it may not seem logical, the construction industry is not simply about building – it requires so many other elements including planning, design, technology, sales, finance, marketing – the list is endless and gender should frankly not come into it. If university isn’t for you and you can secure an apprenticeship where you will be supported whilst earning your qualification and a salary and be able to secure a foot on the career ladder, then your gender should not hold you back.
Is there a Bewley Homes approach that might distinguish it from the opposition?
Our high staff retention level is one of the distinguishing factors about Bewley Homes and I think speaks volumes about the type of organisation we are. When someone joins Bewley, they are joining a family – one where they are expected to make a huge contribution to ensure the success of the business but, equally, one where they will see that success recognised and rewarded. Our founding principles of respect, support, quality and community are intrinsic to our values today.