In June 2021, the Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS) partnered with Timewise, the flexible working consultancy, in the hope they could assist with the development of a ‘Flexible Working Initiative’ or ‘Guidance’ document that could be used to help members develop flexible working schemes within their own companies. Well, after many meetings and much dialogue between groups a final; guidance document has been produced, however, it is important first to frame this document against the backdrop of the issues.
The construction sector does have its challenges: its aging workforce in particular is of concern, as is its unglamorous perception to new recruits, and these combine to potentially deliver too few people to meet future construction demand. This is a real concern, and its impact is already being felt across the sector. With the situation already approaching critical, initiatives must be put in place to encourage new people into the sector, and many are already up-and-running and making an impact. However, much more needs to be done.
In the face of employment competition, the construction sector must change to appeal to a much wider and more diverse pool of people and breakout of the fact that 99.99% of site operatives are male in the piling sector. Some of the initiatives in place are already helping to widen the diversity of people working in construction and these on-going initiatives are already impacting positively on the profile of those people entering the industry. However, construction companies must look to the wider changing relationships the industry has with work and young people’s expectations of working conditions.
The lack of flexible working is one such working condition and one of the key barriers faced by working parents and others to working in the construction industry. As such the issue is turning away an enormous pool of potential talent.
Flexible working is increasingly the norm for back-office jobs; and the on-going COVID pandemic, forcing a shift of many jobs to homeworking, highlights just how successful flexible working practices can be. The availability of technology has helped enormously and despite many employers’ initial fears, there wasn’t a drop in output or productivity and even, for some, an improvement the result of less travel, flexible hours and improved mental health.
Whist there are emerging technologies that facilitate the remote operation of some machinery such as drones and provide alternative solutions for roles that have typically required a permanent site presence, no one is suggesting that all construction site work can be done ‘working from home’. There are tasks that will always demand an ‘all hands-on deck’ approach, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for some flexibility on-site. It would be all too easy to say ALL clients and main contractors do not support flexible working and that they have fixed expectations around working hours, shift patterns and productivity to meet project programmes. Some companies have already implemented flexible working programmes, resulting in changes in working practices and some of these have come about as a result of the workshops that the FPS and Timewise have held as part of this initiative. This suggests solutions are possible, if not universal and off-the-peg.
Looking outside the traditional working box is necessary; currently, the older workforce in particular, is conditioned to work more hours for more pay, which they feel is an incentive and therefore flexible working can be an anathema to them if they don’t get the same level of pay. In addition, for the piling sector in particular, concrete supply imposes a natural constraint, as it needs to be poured within a timeframe, and operationally it will be challenging to split shifts and teams.
Despite the issues, many companies are finding solutions and the FPS is pleased to announce the publication of ‘Guidance for improving flexible working opportunities in piling’, which has been drafted as a result of the work the FPS and Timewise and additionally the input and feedback of many companies that took part in the background work to facilitate the document’s creation.
Whilst not a definitive ‘how to’ for any company, it does provide the framework and tools, using a stepped approach about how to approach the option and the template to working through the challenges as they present themselves uniquely to each business or job. With a great case study from BAM Construction, highlighting what they do in order to bring some flexibility, the guidance shows what is possible by following its approach.
The solution is not perfect, we can after all only go as far as site permits us too, and of course, there will never be a one-size fits all, but even the smallest degree of flexibility may well be the difference between someone choosing to enter the piling sector or not and that is a loss potentially much wider than piling!
The guidance document can be downloaded by FPS members, here: https://www.fps.org.uk/user-login/