Social building enterprise B4Box identified a strong business case for developing a multi-skilled workforce – but with a lack of multi-trade training providers out there, they decided to do it themselves.
Stockport-based B4Box is a building company, social enterprise and training centre in one – and its business model provides an elegant solution to a simple equation.
The UK has thousands of vacant properties and a huge shortage of construction skills. If newcomers could gain a wide range of skills, such as plastering, joinery, bricklaying, tiling, and fitting kitchens, bathrooms and windows, they could renovate and repair an empty house quickly and efficiently in small teams – and help plug the skills gap.
The only problem is the dearth of multi-skill training and assessors. With most trainers being specialists in a particular trade, it is hard to get assessors lined up to cover a multi-trade course.
“Our local colleges didn’t have the resources to handle multi-skill training. And perceptions persist in the industry that you can only practise one trade properly,” says Michael Dickinson, B4Box’s Head of Development.
“It’s a chicken and egg problem. It’s hard to get multi-skills training because there aren’t many trainers and assessors who are multi-skilled.
“Lots of microbusinesses are multi-skilled already, but their people tend not to have the qualifications to show for it. It’s also very hard to recruit accredited multi-skilled trainers.
“So we decided do it ourselves and develop our own multi-skills training course in-house.”
Michael says the process would not have been possible without the help of £48,000 in CITB funding.The company found two existing highly experienced multi-skilled employees to train up as assessors.
They both successfully qualified; one became a full-time multi-trade construction trainer and assessor based in B4Box’s training centre, and the other combines those responsibilities with site supervision.
Now the company not only has the capability to train and upskill their workforce as and when it suits their specific needs, but is also a fully accredited regional multi-trade training provider.
The CITB funding also allowed them to train 6 new adult entrants as multi-skilled operatives. All of them were over 25 and two were over 40 – and at the time there was no state funding available to them for apprenticeships.
“One of them had been told by an employment adviser that he’d never work again. He thought he’d be on benefits for the rest of his life, but he’s now skilled, qualified and one of our team leaders.”
The candidates achieved 3.5 times more credits than they needed to obtain their NVQs. It could have been done quicker and more cheaply, but the company took the long view, understanding that multi-skilled workers ultimately boost productivity and efficiency.
In fact, their research – also undertaken on the back of CITB funding – found that refurbishing a whole house would take 4 multi-skilled operatives 17% less time than 8 single-trade operatives, and make a total cost-saving of almost 38%. “CITB’s support was vital in changing these people’s lives,” Michael says.
Sector: Repair and maintenance
Size of company: medium
Challenge: Develop a multi-skill training capability
Funding: £48,000 in CITB funding for innovation, pilots and prototypes
Impact: All trainees successfully qualified with multiple skills and the company gained full accreditation as a training provider
"The UK has a chronic skills shortage and every company has a responsibility to address this”
Michael Dickinson, Head of Development at B4Box
“Those adults wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity. We need to find ways to get people into the industry, to provide pathways,” Michael says.
Out of the six people trained, three of them stayed at B4Box, two went to other companies and one became self-employed: “They might stay with us or move on. The point is that these individuals have benefited and so has the industry overall.
“The UK has a chronic skills shortage and every company has a responsibility to address this, especially with Brexit and our ageing population.
“Creating a better skills base for industry is the right thing for Britain.”