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Incommunities leads way in providing training opportunities
“An ordinary programme that does extraordinary things” – that is how Delroy Beverley, chief executive for building and construction at social housing group Incommunities, describes the organisation’s apprenticeship scheme.
And after winning a prestigious national award, it is easy to see why it is so proud of its flagship initiative.
Incommunities is starting its 11th year managing nearly 22,500 rented and leasehold homes providing affordable social housing across the Bradford district. But, over the years it has developed to become more than a landlord, reaching out to communities to make a positive impact on people’s lives.
This contribution was recognised when the organisation was presented with the Women in Science and Engineering Diversity Award from the Princess Royal during a ceremony at the Science Museum, London, last November. The group received praise for encouraging women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds to consider careers in the construction sector via its apprenticeship scheme.
A quarter of the 560 applicants in 2012 were black or minority ethnic and five per cent were women, moving away from the model of solely recruiting male school leavers, something Mr Beverley was determined to address when he joined the organisation in 2004.
“The apprenticeship programme at the time was all white male, aged between 16 and 19,” he said.
“I couldn’t see how that cohort was a true representation of Bradford and I wanted to ask why. I thought there was real potential here to do something very special.”
Incommunities group chief executive, Geraldine Howley, also wanted to increase the opportunities given to the diverse communities served by the organisation.
She said: “We wanted to be more than a landlord. We wanted to create real social change and one of the key issues was trying to get people into employment from all our communities.
“The communities we serve are so diverse and we wanted to reflect that, not put people in a box.
“So we threw the age barrier out of the window, encouraged female applications by working more closely with schools, and tried to look at all communities in Bradford to appeal to people from all ethnic backgrounds.”
To complement its expanding vision, Incommunities embarked on a significant amount of development work in schools and ran the UK’s largest ‘women into construction’ event in Bradford in 2008, targeting more than 1,000 children at 15 schools over three days.
Dropping the age restriction and placing a greater emphasis on community outreach work meant that the group soon saw a greater number of people taking an interest in their apprenticeship scheme, and a real change in the profile of those applying. “We changed our recruitment targets to make them more diverse, and this really paid dividends in the application process,” said Mr Beverley.
“These people were out there, they just needed an opportunity. Now, for example, we have females on our sites where typically you would have just seen men. Subliminally, we then used these staff as a hook for other women to come in. If people can empathise with someone, they are more likely to take their advice than someone who has never walked in their shoes.
“We had more BME applicants, more women, mothers, single parents, and we’ve steadily seen a fantastic increase in the numbers. Now, at least 30 per cent of our apprenticeships at any one time are female or BME, which is fantastic.”
Investing in its apprentices as people is something that Mrs Howley emphasises. She said: “Apprentices are at the heart of our business, and I am proud of their contribution, as both learners and as ambassadors for the organisation.
“Some companies still see it as a risk, but it is an investment, and one that pays dividends in the long-term as you retain staff that are committed to your culture, your values, and your way of working.
“We have female staff now who act as mentors and role models for new female apprentices, so there’s that knock-on effect, and we always say, you’re not just coming in as an apprentice with us, we want you to be an ambassador as well and inspire the next cohort of apprentices. There are benefits for everyone, and because we really invest in them as people it becomes a great pipeline of recruitment for us.”
Aside from its apprenticeship scheme, Incommunities runs an employment opportunities fund for 400 people across the business catering for non-trades work, and co-ordinates an employability skills programme in the community called ‘Locally Grown’.
It also runs the GEMS graduate employment scheme, helping graduates interested in a career change to study for an accredited Institute for Housing qualification.
At a local level, this myriad of opportunties has seen Incommunities win Employer of the Year at the Telegraph & Argus Bradford Means Business Awards in 2011, and Job Creator of the Year in 2013.
Rather than using November’s award to reflect and bask in its success, the organisation is continuing its commitment to the apprenticeship programme in an attempt to widen the scheme further and deliver continued social change.
“We will continue to pioneer and lead on initiatives designed to engage more with under-represented groups and individuals – male and female – to promote careers in construction,” said Mr Beverley.
“The award was testament to our inclusive approach to building a successful programme, and investing in and nurturing each apprentice. Ours is just an ordinary programme that does extraordinary things, but it required a real organisational change to embrace it and take it forward.
“We have almost become a victim of our own success, in that last year we had more than 900 applications for just seven positions. We don’t want those people who apply and aren’t successful to just fall of the radar, so that is where our focus as an organisation is moving towards.
“We have got some challenging communities here in Bradford, where unemployment has been the byword in some families for generations.
“It makes business sense for us, economically and socially, to engineer a change. If we can make a difference in one family, it makes a difference in that community, and so it grows from there.”
For more information on the opportunities provided by InCommunities, visit incommunities.co.uk.