BW uses benefits to attract top talent in competitive industry

There is a war for talent in construction; a lack of skilled individuals entering the industry, means organisations are fighting for the top people. For building fit-out and refurbishment organisation BW, winning this war means offering a valued and attractive employee proposition.

Penny Cresswell, head of HR at BW, says: “As an industry, we’re short of about 140,000 people coming in. [The role of benefits] really is to make sure that we can attract the people in, that we can keep them, and that when they are here, they feel really valued.”

With a goal to attract the top 10%, BW recognises that talented players may not necessarily come from within the construction industry. “It’s no good being narrow minded and just looking within construction, we have to look where the real top players are going, because they’re going to have skills that are transferable and can come into our industry and can run teams,” says Cresswell. “They don’t have to have a strict construction background, but equally, we have to compete against [all other organisations] to get the top people in, to get them interested andto get them wanting to join our industry.”

BW does not only look outside of its own industry for prospective candidates, adds Cresswell.  “The lesson we keep saying is, ‘don’t just look inwardly, take time out to see what other [employers] are doing because it is inspiring; it might not be relevant all the time, but there might be one thing that makes that difference’,” she says.

Attracting parents

Working within a male-dominated industry, BW has taken steps to both provide valuable benefits and address part of the gender equality agenda. In November 2019, it introduced new enhanced maternity and paternity benefits: female employees can take 18 weeks of maternity leave at full pay, and men can take six weeks of paternity leave at full pay, within the child’s first year.

This enhanced approach to parental leave recognises that, male-dominated or not, there is little point in missing out on valuable talent due to inflexible approaches to the demands and priorities affecting staff outside of their working lives.

“If we look at the make-up of our workforce, 26% are women, but the rest are men and family is very important to them,” says Cresswell. “They can spend more time with their child and support their partner when they go back to work, so that there is a more gentle break-in for everybody returning to work.”

The introduction of these enhanced provisions stemmed partly from points raised in the organisation’s annual employee survey. Its reaction demonstrates the importance of working to include staff in the conversation around what is most important, and what benefits would be most highly prized.

“I think it’s quite new for the industry, and it’s helping both sides move towards better equality,” says Cresswell. “It has had such a positive effect. When we launched it, we had people writing to the [chief executive officer] to say ‘thank you, it’s going to make a real difference, it’s something that will be of benefit to me in the future’. That’s what we want; something that makes people see BW as the caring [employer] that it is.”

Mental wellbeing

As well as the issue of gender balance, a further area of focus within the construction industry is the mental health of employees. As awareness of the prevalence of suicide among men working in this area grows, the need for support is rising up the agenda for many organisations. In light of this, BW has been working on initiatives to support the wellbeing of its employees.

In 2018, the organisation introduced mental health first aiders; it now has 19 trained members of staff, who have access to their own internal support group. BW also runs mental health awareness sessions for employees twice a year.

Working with a charity partner, Rethink Mental Illness, has helped raise awareness of the issue and promote the importance of providing support networks in the workplace, explains Cresswell. “There is no point just talking about it, we need to get out there and support people,” she says. “As an industry, it is very highly pressurised, it is very demanding, and it’s very male dominated. We need to break those barriers down.”

An attractive suite of benefits

While benefits for working parents and comprehensive mental wellbeing support are extremely valuable initiatives that address key concerns facing the construction industry, BW also recognises the importance of everyday benefits, catering to a range of employee needs.

To this end, the organisation offers a suite of benefits to attract and retain the kind of skilled workforce that is in high demand in its industry. For example, a generous private medical insurance (PMI) scheme offers employer-funded cover to all employees, as well as their partners and children up to the age of 25. In addition, BW takes care of the full gamut of employee health needs, via employer-paid dental insurance and a health cash plan staff are able to access for things like optical or physiotherapy appointments.

Employees can also take advantage of perks, ranging from a bikes-for-work scheme, as well as a highly popular bring-your-dog-to-work day, which takes place each week. 

Benefits communication

BW ensures that all employees are kept up-to-date with information about their benefits and any changes that might be happening through as many communication channels as possible.

During their induction, new joiners receive a folder with all their benefits clearly outlined. An intranet also hosts benefits information, which is linked to an HR database so that employees can see everything available and what they are covered for.

BW also uses corporate social networking tool Yammer to inform staff about events that are happening each week, and activities centring around national campaigns, such as Stress Awareness Week, which takes place from 4 to 8 November. The organisation also hosts quarterly town hall meetings, during which new benefit announcements are made.

Communication around benefits is not just one-way; through its annual staff survey, BW knows that its employees value their benefits package, but also understands that for staff, a reward package is just one part of the proposition.

Providing strong leadership and people development opportunities is also integral to engaging and retaining those skilled individuals, explains Cresswell: “The amount we invest in management and leadership helps to ensure that our teams feel valued, and that’s what it is about; they’re a very precious resource.”

BW at a glance

BW is a commercial fit-out and refurbishment organisation. Job roles are varied and can include construction managers, technical service managers, commercial managers, and head office functions, such as HR and finance.

The organisation has 226 employees; 26% are female, 74% male. Ages range between 18 and 63, and the average length of service is 3.7 years.

Business objectives that impact employee benefits

BW’s primary strategy is to have all of its projects defect free, finished on time, with no issues outstanding. To enable this, it has to have teams that work well, respect each other, and feel valued, so it has to make sure that its benefits package is at the forefront of the industry.

Career history

Penny Cresswell, head of HR, joined BW in 2011. She has worked in HR for over 30 years, during which time she has held various positions. Prior to joining BW, Cresswell was at market research organisation TNS.

Something she has always enjoyed in her role has been helping to develop talent: taking on a new joiner, graduate or apprentice, and seeing them go through their career to director level. “It’s the most exciting and biggest achievement in HR,” she says. “It’s about taking them through the employee lifecycle, to make sure that they are able to fulfil their own potential.”

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