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Beyond Business

20 May 2009

For many FM companies, corporate responsibility has become part of their business ethos. MITIE, for example, expends considerable corporate resources on raising vocational skills in schools and changing the life prospects of young people.

EVERY YEAR MITIE SETS CHALLENGING targets to drive its business forward, and its ambitions in its corporate responsibility (CR) programme are no different. As one of the UK’s leading support services companies with over 49,000 employees and a broad range of expertise, MITIE has focused its most visible CR activities on skills-based projects that align with the company’s ethos of ‘providing opportunities for people to succeed and develop to their full potential’.

MITIE has signed the Government’s Skills Pledge and introduced several innovative projects such as the Real Apprentice scheme and its largest investment in CR, the MITIE Construction Skills Centres. The first of seven Skills Centres opened in 2001. The project was hailed at the time as a revolutionary new way to tackle the vocational skills shortage facing the UK, helping to bridge the gap between education and employment. In the centres, young people between the ages of 14 and 16 are taught a range of construction skills, and obtain nationally recognised vocational qualifications.

Whilst other schools do sometimes offer construction training as part of the curriculum, the majority of the teaching takes place off-site in local colleges. The MITIE Skills Centres offered a more inclusive approach for the schools providing training and vocational education for all students in a controlled environment.

Stephen Barthorpe, CR Manager for MITIE explains, “When we opened our first Skills Centre in 2001, it was because one of our businesses had links with a local school and could see that they had a real need for practical vocational training.

After the death of our founding Chairman, David Telling in 2003, we decided to replicate the success of this first Skills Centre around the country in his memory. The idea was that we would be contributing to our local communities whilst trying to address a skills shortage in the construction industry, especially in attracting women into the industry. We would then potentially be able to recruit from the young people who successfully complete their qualifications. MITIE went through a rigorous selection process looking for schools with visionary Head Teachers that were open to vocational learning and who had space available
for us to convert into a workshop and training centre. Once the schools were identified, we then converted available classrooms into dedicated construction skills centres and provided all the supplies, tools, equipment and personal protective equipment that were required as well as providing the ongoing maintenance for the centres.”

A wide range of courses are provided by construction teachers from construction taster events to the BTEC Certificate and Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment. The subjects covered include plumbing and electrical skills, bricklaying, painting and decorating, and carpentry and joinery. Some of the Skills Centres even provide DIY classes for the local community out of school hours.

The seven Skills Centres that have been opened so far are based in community-focused schools in Wigan, Bristol, Sunderland, Ipswich, Hackney, Airdrie and Birmingham. The Skills Centre in Birmingham was opened at Castle Vale School & Performing Arts College based on an estate with a history of high unemployment levels.

Clive Owen, Head Teacher for the school comments: "The successful vibrant construction centre we have now is a strong feature of school life securing qualifications, key skills, employment, further training and most importantly belief for hundreds of youngsters who complete a course there. The MITIE Construction Skills Centre itself, the links with the many MITIE staff, the visits , the work experience and the work we have done with the MITIE energy manager on being a ‘greener school’ have been tremendous.”

Richard Bennett, Deputy Head Teacher for the school adds: “Well it’s not melodramatic for me to say that it changes people’s lives. It’s about experiential learning. The issue for us in education is to make sure that youngsters are engaged and believe that what they are doing is important. And what you see in the Skills Centre is that they really believe that. They are doing it, because they enjoy it and they clearly are motivated but they also see a purpose to it and that purpose of course is a vocation. They can see that they can end up with a career out of it and therefore a future, and that brings a different level of motivation than you can’t get in a traditional academic subject.”

Amanda, a year 11 student at Castle Vale. Amanda was recently asked to talk about the MITIE Skills Centres to a group of business leaders and dignitaries including Prince Charles as part of the Prince's ‘Seeing is Believing’ programme run by Business In The Community. “I have learned so much about the basics of construction, the health and safety issues and procedures, plumbing, roofing and electrics. There are so many things that I never expected I would ever be able to do and now I can. I thoroughly enjoy being able to imagine something and then create it. It is an amazing feeling for me to be able to see a project come together and know that I am the one who made it all happen. I think part of the reason I enjoy my construction class so much is because I am a practical person. I enjoy the hands-on methods used to teach us, and although it is indeed work, it is also fun. We are encouraged by not only our teachers but also by our classmates and together we make our class a great place to be.”

In total, more than 1,000 14-16 year olds have benefited from the Skills Centres and now that all seven centres are up and running they will be helping more than 500 more each year to develop construction skills that could lead to apprenticeships and future employment. But the Centres offer more than just a qualification for these young people and have led to further engagement between the schools and MITIE.

“They offer work experience opportunities, advice on careers in construction, and the possibility of progression into employment,” explains Karen Govier, MITIE’s Equality and Diversity Manager. “We have engaged with the schools in many different ways including holding World of Work days where MITIE employees, clients and suppliers work with the children in the schools to give them careers advice about the huge range of work that exists out there. We also hold volunteering and challenge days where MITIE
stakeholders are encouraged to team up with the children to carry out a project within one of the
schools such as designing a new playground or producing a new school newsletter.”

Amy, a student from a recent ‘World of Work’ workshop at Caldervale High School in Airdrie said: “Understanding the reality of the working environment was tough to hear about – expectations of employers, wages structure, the effort required to accomplish good working standards – this made me think.”

As the selected schools are always near to MITIE’s regional offices, its employees are actively involved by assisting with appropriate parts of the curriculum, giving master classes in the different trades.

They also act as individual mentors to those successful students who go on to be employed as apprentices, under the Construction Industry Training Board scheme.

MITIE currently has more than 40 young people gaining work experience with them from the Skills Centres through the government’s Young Apprentice scheme. Three of the Skills Centres have been in operation long enough to produce ‘graduates’ and MITIE has provided apprenticeships, work experience and employment for students for each of them with more than 20 students having progressed into full-time jobs with MITIE so far.

Adam Bannister, a Trainee Surveyor that graduated from the Skills Centres and is now a full-time employee of MITIE said: “Having completed the construction BTEC, and now working for MITIE, I am very much part of the team and I love earning while I learn.”

Thus far, MITIE estimates that it has invested more than £700,000 in money and time setting up, maintaining and engaging with the Skills Centres. The benefits that it has seen from the project include winning a number of new contracts where the Skills Centres was cited as one of the criteria for choosing MITIE as a partner: “Winning new business is much more than just satisfying a client’s commercial criteria. Clients also require us to demonstrate our commitment and investment in local communities in the prequalification and bidding stage. For us the Skills Centres are a real differentiator – they open client doors for us,”comments Barthorpe.

“Involvement with the Skills Centres generates a great deal of enthusiasm, motivation and personal commitment for all the employees, clients and suppliers that get involved. Everyone benefits from the Skills Centres: from the young individuals whose skill sets and employment prospects are improved, and the schools whose attendance and pass rates have increased, to the schools’ communities that now have access to new facilities out of school hours.”

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