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ISG puts the wow into work experience

The practical limitations of providing traditional work experience in construction drove ISG to develop dynamic ways to engage potential new talent.

As one of CITB’s National Skills Academies for Construction, global construction services company ISG has committed to providing at least 25 work experience placements a year. 

On top of that, it gets regular individual requests from young hopefuls keen to get a feel for site work.

But guaranteeing useful experience on site is difficult, given health and safety considerations, not to mention everyday pressures on staff and resources.

Dr Vicky Hutchinson, Head of Social Value, knew there had to be a better way.

A true flavour of the industry

With the help of £28,443 in CITB funding for innovation, Vicky planned to design, develop and pilot a five-day course of stimulating activities that would give a flavour of real work in a range of construction careers. The course was named World of Work Experience, or WOWEX.

“We brought in an education consultant who interviewed widely across our job roles to create exciting course content and activities that would appeal to children, young people and adults alike,” Vicky says.

“The WOWEX course that emerged centres around a hypothetical project to build a small industrial unit. 

“Participants compete in groups as fictional companies, bidding against each other to get the contract. 

“Each day the task progresses and the career roles change, from bid development, design, estimation, risk assessment, compliance – all the aspects of a typical construction project.

“The course really helps to open the eyes of those who thought construction was just about bricklaying and plastering. 

“As they take on the roles of estimators, contract managers, planners and quantity surveyors, they find themselves writing reports, giving presentations, visiting sites and making scale models.”

More employable, more confident

So far, 5 separate cohorts have done the WOWEX course, comprising people already training in construction, BTEC and A-level students, and young schoolchildren – a testament to its versatility. Hundreds of other students also attended taster sessions.

It has been hugely successful, with participants giving glowing feedback afterwards. Most telling of all, almost 9 out of 10 attendees said they would consider a career in construction. Before the course, it was fewer than 4 out of 10.

This, too, was from a diverse range of attendees, including significantly more women and black and minority ethnic people than currently work in the industry.

“Many who had been training to be accountants left the course saying they were thinking about switching to construction,” Vicky says. “But even if they don’t go into construction, they leave with a range of skills that they can take to any job.

“It definitely boosted their employability, but the students also talked about the fun they had, how it helped with their personal development, how they’d overcome their social anxiety, how they’d enjoyed the teamwork, and become more confident, how they’d got over their fear of giving a presentation.”

Next steps

Vicky thinks there is plenty of potential to take the course further. “People have done WOWEX and then applied to our talent apprenticeship scheme, so we’re thinking about developing the course into a recruitment tool. The project has grown legs!” she says.

“In addition to sharing WOWEX widely across industry, there are also opportunities to do a bite-sized version, or develop it for other groups. We could do a similar thing for women returning to work or the long-term unemployed, for example.”

Although running the course is resource intensive and the application process was challenging, Vicky is sure it has been worth it.“We’ve made a difference. The impact we’ve had on those young people’s lives has been really powerful.”


Company: ISG

Sector: Construction Services

Challenge: Finding an effective way to deliver work experience to boost the appeal of construction

Funding: £28,443

Impact: A highly effective work experience resource that can be shared across industry

“We’ve made a difference. The impact we’ve had on those young people’s lives has been really powerful.”

Dr Vicky Hutchinson, Head of Social Value, ISG