Chartered Institute of Building Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Building


Dealing with training during a pandemic

5 October 2020 | By Susan Hudson

When lockdown hit, Susan Hudson had to find new ways to train staff at Scottish housebuilder Stewart Milne

How did you arrange training when the lockdown forced you to take a different approach?

When lockdown began we knew we wouldn’t be able to undertake training the way we usually do. We’d no longer be able to have everyone in one room together. The initial reaction was: training won’t be happening – but we weren’t having that!

We worked with other housebuilders to support employees with training needs during the lockdown. We were all in the same boat, so being able to bounce ideas off each other really helped. We created spreadsheets and online portals with links to free training. From Open University courses to learning a new language, from cooking to IT skills, we encouraged employees to look beyond construction and consider personal development and wellbeing.

How did that go?

What we accomplished in a three-month period was quite phenomenal. Around 85% of employees have completed free online learning for their own personal development or mandatory H&S training. We’ve administered 1,678 hours of training, which equates to an impressive 44 weeks.

To boost morale during furlough, newsletters and Zoom chats informing employees of important safety measures were shared, as well as fun virtual activities to participate in.

There’s been a lot of positives to come from this, from how we will deliver training going forward and the efficiencies that can be made. As well as being effective in terms of the learning outcomes, we have saved around £80,000 during the period. Eliminating commuting time, accommod-ation requirements and course material costs are a few benefits of learning remotely.

Our employees understand the value of personal development to expand their skillset and knowledge. It also showed our continual investment in staff during this time, which meant a lot to people. The uptake was great; we had people asking for more online courses too.

How will things work now that employees are returning to the workplace? 

Over the next few months we’ll be able to compare the e-learning with face-to-face training through feedback from employees and observing behaviours on site. I’d like a bit more time before I say virtual learning is the future but, reflecting on the booking, coordinating and current feedback, online training is 100% positive.

Susan Hudson is learning and development manager at Stewart Milne


This is a great story and I really look forward to hearing more about how the e-learning compares with face-to-face. Last month as Public Affairs and Mentoring Lead for Women in Property, I submitted a case study to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work, The tale of two women described how a surveyor who was self funding her own training was essentially abandoned during furlough and fearing redundancy, sorted out her own next role. In contrast, an architect was able to choose to be furloughed, with the firm supporting her to undertake PassivHaus training. Our policy suggestion to government is that furlough funding should be dependent on employers giving evidence of providing training opportunities and support.

Sandi Rhys Jones OBE FCIOB, 9 October 2020