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Interview: Targeting Tideway recruitment

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Steep recruitment targets will ensure a lasting legacy, long after the construction of Thames Tideway ends

When Tideway gets into full swing next year, over 4,000 people will be working on the super sewer project set to change the face of the Thames. With a range of challenging recruitment targets, Tideway hopes it can change the way large infrastructure projects interact with the local community and leave a legacy beyond the construction phase.

The Tideway tunnel will run through 14 London boroughs when completed in 2023, and perhaps the most impressive target is that 25% of workers need to be recruited from those boroughs – so around 1,000 (full-time equivalent) people of the 4,000 who will be employed throughout the entire supply chain.

“We are currently working at around 21%,” explains Tideway’s head of skills and employment Scott Young. “This is good given that until this point a large number of the available roles have been technical and managerial and these are often more difficult to recruit into.

“We have a 48-hour exclusivity for the jobs for local people living in the 14 boroughs, before we advertise more widely. There is a real emphasis on getting local people applying for the jobs.”

All Tideway vacancies, including contractors, are filtered through Build London, a job brokerage spun out of Crossrail when its recruitment started ramping down. Now set up as a separate company, it is part funded by the Department of Work and Pensions, and Job Centre Plus coaches based at Tideway are going out and doing a lot of brokerage to get local people into the jobs.

In addition, Women in Construction also have office space at Tideway and spend on average a day a week with Tideway contractors. Recently the organisation was recognised as one of The Times Top 50 Employers for Women in 2018, with CEO Andy Mitchell a finalist in the Gender Champion Award category.

We’re bridging that gap between standard pre-employment and what our contractors are wanting from people coming into the industry

“It’s about bringing addition expertise from outside, not employed by us, but we provide desk space for them in kind,” adds Young.

In the four boroughs - Southwark, Hammersmith and Fulham, Wandsworth and Greenwich – where the TBM launches are sited, the local employment target is for a fifth of the workforce to be recruited locally.

“That is a particularly difficult target, especially in Wandsworth with the Nine Elms development, where there is already a good employment rate. It’s incredible difficult to get local people there,” says Young.

Working closely with the economic development teams within the local authorities to meet the target in the four boroughs has paid off. “We publish huge amounts of information quarterly to those boroughs, what we are doing, what we are up to, how we are achieving against targets.

“Being open and transparent about how we are doing, where the difficulties are, has been key to our success.”

The quarterly reports break down the cultural and ethnic split, age profiles and disabilities, and although there are no Tideway targets around these, it is completely transparent. According to Young, the local authorities have reported that the amount of detailed information is way and above that they have received from other major infrastructure projects.

“That relationship is key,” he says. “The trust of local authorities that you are doing all you possibly can to get local people into employment.”

But it’s not only local people who are being targeted by the project. There are targets around ex-offenders – one in a 100 workers recruited (see box below) – and contractors have a target to ensure that at least 10% of new starters have been workless. This includes people who are unemployed, or economically inactive, such as the people who are sick or disabled, students, people looking after the family and home, and retired people

Currently the project is exceeding this target with around 24% of the workforce made up of previously workless people.

But it is quality of apprenticeship, over quantity

“One of the challenges is that sometimes people are insufficiently skilled or perhaps come with the wrong attitude or behaviours that we are looking for as employers,” explains Young.

“There are plenty of colleges and organisations who provide standard training such as CV writing skills, Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card etc but we are trying take people who have done that and give them addition tickets and train them for entry level jobs.

“We’re bridging that gap between standard pre-employment and what our contractors are wanting from people coming into the industry.

Outreach work in local secondary schools takes place in the 14 affected boroughs, with volunteers going out and speaking around STEM.

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“We spend on average 90 minutes of every calendar day in classrooms or education setting,” says Young. “Going out into schools promoting careers, both in Tideway and with the contractors.

In addition, one in 50 jobs is an apprenticeship - around 250 to 400 apprenticeships overall. Tideway receives around 50 applicants for every apprenticeship place.

“But it is quality of apprenticeship, over quantity,” explains Young. “The headline figure quoted is always one in 50 for apprenticeships. But there are a number of other requirements for the contractors, for a mixture of intermediate, advanced and higher-level apprenticeships. We are pushing those professional level degrees as well.”

Last September Tideway had its first two apprentices start their civil engineering degrees after working for the organisation for the past four years. Later this year when tunnelling begins in earnest, a tunnelling apprenticeship will also be launched.

“We are pretty much on track with apprenticeships, but there are still preconceptions around them,” says Young. “It’s sometimes influencing parents and teachers who still see apprenticeships as a second best to university route. To go out and say to people ‘you can become a fully qualified civil engineer by being an apprentice straight from school’ is still pretty hard for some to understand.”

This and other legacy targets for the project made up a large proportion of the tendering process, and the contractors have passed the targets down the supply chain. “The emphasis the contractors are putting on the labour only part of the supply chain to really deliver against these targets is quite impressive. It’s not something I have seen on other projects personally,” adds Young.

“They will provide 40% of the labour on this project. If they don’t get it right in the supply chain, we won’t hit those targets. The fact that the main works contractors are cascading those requirements down the supply chain is pretty significant.

“What was particularly interesting at a recent labour only contractor meeting, when we spoke about our expectations around the targets, there was a sense that the contractors thought the targets were achievable. It was a very positive event,” explains Young.

But Young believes that for the legacy to work then it needs more than just targets.

“There is an increasing need to be smarter,” he explains. “Employers, clients, contractors and local authorities determine how they deliver a benefit socially and economically to residents living in the areas affected by the works.

“It’s more than just jobs, it might be about the quality of employment offered. We can offer higher quality employment for people who are doing other jobs earning less money with less security. Getting people to transfer across sectors into a better-quality job is another way to look at how to deliver a social benefit.

It’s all about improving the quality of people’s lives through the jobs that they do,” adds Young.


peter cheasman tideway

peter cheasman tideway

Peter Cheasman, from Catford in south-east London, slept on the streets of London after he was released from a six-month spell in prison.

The former tyre-fitter was referred to Thames Reach, one of Tideway’s charity partners which helps homeless and vulnerable people get back into work, before he was put forward for Tideway’s pre-employment programme.

The scheme, aimed at people who live in the boroughs where Tideway’s main sites are based, provides interview preparation and practice, health and safety training, work experience and a guaranteed interview for full-time employment on the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

Cheasman is now working full-time on the project as a general operative.

The 54-year-old, who previously worked for the same company for 38 years, said: “I went from having a full-time job to losing everything. You have just got to get the help and take the advice you’re given. It’s not going to come to you, you have to go to them and help yourself.”

Through Thames Reach, he took courses in bricklaying and painting and decorating, before being recommended for the pre-employment programme at Tideway.

He said: “I’ve always enjoyed working outside, doing DIY. This programme has helped me learn different skills and meet a lot of different people. Everyone has been so supportive, they can’t do enough for me.”

Cheasman is taking part in the pre-employment programme for the East section, which is being delivered by a joint venture of Costain, Vinci Construction Grands Projets and Bachy Soletanche.

Six people took part in the scheme, which launched in February, with two people – including Cheasman – landing full-time roles on the project. A further three people from the programme are expected to start working on the project this month.

The Central and West pre-employment programmes started in March and April.

In total, 30 people were recruited onto the programme and received training, 15 secured work placements and 12 went into employment with Tideway contractors


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