The world isn't fair... but we should be
CM asked a main contractor and a specialist what they've gained from CITB Be Fair accreditation.
The CITB’s Be Fair framework is designed to help construction employers to embed fairness, inclusion and respect in their day-to-day activities. Michael Smyth, the head of human resources at £420m-turnover contractor Graham Construction, and Jean Duprez, manager at London-based decorating subcontractor K&M McLoughlin, explain what their companies have gained from Be Fair accreditation.
Why did you decide to go for Be Fair accreditation?
Michael Smyth We were looking to get diversity training for managers; it’s a key issue for the industry and for our business. So that’s how we heard about the framework. We did a pilot of some of the modules, then our Scottish division did a full pilot assessment. We’re now doing it across the UK for the whole business.
We wanted to know where we were compared with other organisations, and then to stretch ourselves. We got Bronze accreditation, but quite a number of our practices were Silver. To achieve that every site manager and operative has to be at that level so we aim to be at Silver in early to mid-2015.
Jean Duprez I am always looking at whatever we can do as a company to improve and give us an edge. I thought we did fairly well: we have this policy and that policy and I thought accreditation would be a breeze. Then I realised that although we had lots of policies, they weren’t used throughout the company.
For example, to work on the Olympics, we needed an equality and diversity policy, so we ticked that box. But when it came to how we advertised for staff, there were things in the policy that weren’t embedded in how we did things. Plus, although we don’t have a huge supply chain, we didn’t know how to pass those ideas on to them.
What exactly does achieving the accreditation involve?
MS It covers a wide range of things (see box). Part one is to do with recruitment and getting a diverse workforce. It’s about getting a variety of skills in our organisation – if you have the same thinking from the same people, you will end up with the same results. A big part is working with subcontractors and the supply chain to help them meet the standard. There is one module on how we work with the supply chain, and there are different modules for main contractors, smaller contractors and subcontractors. Going through the process with them makes it easier for them to get their own accreditation.
JD We had no policies on supply chain management, so I used the templates provided by Be Fair. Companies are signed up to a three-strikes policy, and they have to adhere to all the policies and practices of the Be Fair framework so we can keep an eye on what’s going right and wrong, for example with recruitment adverts.
We also used the templates ourselves. For example, when someone was leaving we had never before given them an exit interview. We had three staff leave in a year, and found out exactly why and if there was any way we could retain them.
How did you implement the changes?
MS Every site has a Be Fair champion, it could be a QS, a site manager or an operative, someone everyone feels they can talk to and who is a link between the site and the management team. They get training that we run, and all site operatives get an equality and diversity presentation. It’s also part of the staff induction process.
JD If you’re working in an office environment, you can call a meeting about equality and diversity policies. But conveying your message to operatives, foremen and supervisors across 25 sites is a huge challenge. We were sending them emails, but they weren’t opening them and not prioritising them. So we now print a newsletter, even though it costs money and uses paper.
What was the impact on your business?
MS In our employees’ engagement survey, the number saying that they believed the company was committed to equality and diversity rose by 5%. We also saw an increase in the number of job applicants, so people were thinking: if I go to that company, I’ll be treated well and I’ll be able to build a career. Our staff absence rate has decreased too. It was embraced enthusiastically by everyone, with very little resistance.
JD We changed the way our policies were operated and related. It made us a more open and transparent company. We now have a company that, from top to bottom, knows what it’s striving for. Our policies used to be five pages long, now they’re one page, but everyone knows what they are.
What will be the future for Be Fair?
MS There are lots of frameworks, but this one is run by the CITB and they understand what it’s like to work in construction and where we are on the journey. We’ve already got Investors in People, but in terms of diversity, to us this is the standard for the industry. If it becomes the standard everyone understands, then instead of us filling in a 30-page document for a tender, then we could simply say that we’ve got a Bronze or Silver.
JD As a company we have to do a lot of accreditations to work, such as CHAS, Achilles, Constructionline, and each costs a lot of money. But I would willingly pay my money to be part of Be Fair. To learn more, go to www.citb.co.uk
What is the Be Fair framework?
The Be Fair framework is the CITB’s badge for fair working practices. Tailored versions are available for micro, small and medium-sized subcontractors, and small, medium and large main contractors. Other versions for clients, housing associations and house builders are coming.
The framework includes a full action plan for companies, along with all the supporting documents that they might need. Accreditation requires companies to pass five modules. These are: working with the supply chain; site environment; employment and recruitment; policies and procedures; leadership and strategy.
The CITB has two authorised providers. Constructing Equality offers Be Fair accreditation at Bronze, Silver and Gold levels, whereas SEE Training offers Bronze accreditation only.
A CITB incentive of £1,000 to the first 100 companies to gain accreditation – a sum likely to cover the assessment costs for any firm with fewer than 100 staff – is available via Constructing Equality.
The assessment process is run by two companies at the present: Liverpool-based Constructing Equality offers accreditation at Gold, Silver and Bronze levels, and SEE Things offers Bronze level accreditation.