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Paul's blog -

Have you have been keeping up to speed with the UK’s social ills? By this I mean how best to get people back to work, out of prisons and making a positive contribution. It has been front page news and ‘skills gaps’ has been central to the agenda.

Without better skills, the UK will condemn itself to a lingering decline in competitiveness and a slump in economic growth: that was the main outcome of the Leitch Review published back in Dec 2006.

In the report, Lord Leitch set out how the UK could become a world leader in skills by 2020. Among his recommendations were to make training or education compulsory for all under-18s, ensure 95% of adults have basic numeric and literacy skills and give employers more say over training.

The reality is that we do not have an upcoming workforce that is tasked to meet the requirements of the UK’s employers. The politicians may say otherwise, but ask most business leaders and they will bemoan the lack of trained people to take forward the needs of UK plc.

What does this have to do with corporate social responsibility and sustainability I hear you ask?

Well the answer my friend is not blowing in the wind, but can actually be found by some leading companies who are demonstrating their social responsibility by addressing the issue. Marks and Spencer has an innovative employment programme called Marks and Starts that seeks to provide long term unemployed opportunities at its stores across the UK. The Royal Mail Group working in partnership with various charities has developed a system of recruiting the socially excluded, for example, people with learning difficulties and ex-servicemen to work in sorting offices and deliver our post.

There is innovation in this area within the construction industry too: And there needs to be because the Construction Skills Network “Blueprint for UK Construction Skills 2006-2010” report forecasts that 348,000 more employees will be needed for the construction industry by 2010 – an average of 87,000 per year. Many of these entrants will need new skills with an increasing focus on new prefabricated building techniques, smart buildings, sustainable development and environmental technologies and the industry needs to wave its magic wand and produce such candidates for the construction industry of the future.

Part of the solution lies in the novel approach of BeOnsite, a not for profit company, which aims to offer on-site industry specific training and employment. It is sponsored by Bovis Lend Lease, set up with support from its supply chain, and established in partnership with Jobcentre Plus, ConstructionSkills, the London Development Agency and the Learning and Skills Council.

The BeOnsite concept is modelled on job shops which have been operating on major UK construction sites over the past 12 years. This linkage of local people to construction training and jobs has resulted in almost 10,000 people finding construction employment, and a further 11,000 people going into retail jobs. Helping the long term unemployed overcome barriers to work, provides benefits to local community benefits because the skilled trades people remain in the local area long after the project finishes allowing them to fill some of the many vacancies attributed to the current skills shortage.

To find more information checkout

Actions around training and employment demonstrate that sustainability for companies is more than just addressing the current media hot topic of climate change. To me it is also about providing a healthy and safe workplace with people equipped to meet the needs of their industry. It is also about recognising as an employer, who may only be present for the life of a construction project, that you do have an obligation to support the local community by providing jobs and training. Leaving a legacy of sustainable social outcomes is a must for any responsible business. What are you doing to create this legacy?

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