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From the organisers of

A qualified workforce

13 August 2012

Mark Priestman has more than 20 years’ experience in the natural stone sector. He plays an active role in the development and delivery of training in this specialist environment. Along with his father, David Priestman, he runs a training consultancy whose mantra is: Qualify the Workforce!

I am delighted to have been asked to write this monthly column for Natural Stone Specialist. I run a partnership that is passionate about qualifying our specialist workforce and which has been instrumental in the development of many NVQs. We deliver

On-site Assessment Training (OSAT) experienced worker NVQs in a whole range of masonry skills, supervisor, heritage and management areas, and we also work with Stone Federation Great Britain to deliver specialist apprenticeship programmes.

But this column isn’t about setting out my stall, it’s about switching the sector on to the benefits of having a qualified workforce.

It is about looking at available courses throughout the sector, providing points of contact and, where possible, identifying sources of funding.

Why do I think training is so important? As a far wiser chap than I am once said: “If we fail to plan, we plan out our own failure.“

Any sensible contractor who desires to stick around can see the reality of that statement. After all, it was our industry millennia ago that first recognised the need to build and grow from solid foundations. Getting it wrong proves costly.

But here comes the snag: many businesses lock away their expertise in the heads of an elite few. This mentality can exist in the board room and the steering committee, among managers and foremen. They believe knowledge is power – and they aren’t budging!

A relatively new buzz-phrase is on the scene to quash this: succession planning. It’s about staying alive commercially.

Like me, you will have observed that where a skilled person sets out to mentor their team, empowering them with experience, the trainees thrive, the business soars and the mentor is freed up to concentrate on creativity and excellence. It’s a genuine win-win.

In some respects, the construction industry has been treated like a naughty child and made to engage with training to fulfil regulations and best practice, with financial reward dangled as a carrot.

Arguably, we ought to view training as a positive investment. But we seem to be slow to catch on and still require some inducement. The net result for those who have embraced training is that nothing is lost in the dissemination of skills and much is gained.

Good mentors and coaches are respected for life by those they have taught. Time and again experience shows that an employee who has been developed and fostered has a deep sense of loyalty to the business.

At our firm we have experienced first-hand (even if they are too ‘big’ to say it) the pride on an achiever’s face – regardless of whether they are craftsmen, technicians, supervisors, managers or directors. Invariably the recognition of training propels them forward and they contribute even more to the business.

A qualified workforce means a motivated workforce. It also means you can produce more impressive pre-qualification questionnaire submissions (PQQs) that separate you from the pack and help you win more tenders.

It’s my plan to do some of the homework for you, so keep reading and I’ll deliver you my commentary on where course development is heading, what grants and funding are available and how CSCS might impact your work.

I will even provide tasters of programmes available across the sector.

Mark Priestman is a Partner at Priestman Associates LLP, a leading façade preservation project consultancy. From stonemasonry and heritage skills through to Site Supervision and Conservation Management, the partnership is trusted by the leading brands of the sector as an NVQ provider for experienced, upskiller and apprentice workers.

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