Countdown to construction awards

Place continues its series revisiting winners from last year's North West Regional Construction Awards in the build-up to the 2011 ceremony in May. Here we look at Wates Living Space, contractor winner in the equality and diversity category.

The areas of equality and diversity have long been recognised as an important area that needs to be addressed in the UK construction industry. In real terms, diversity-based percentiles have remained relatively unchanged, since the early 1990s; consisting of between just 10% and 12% of women and 2% and 4% of black and minority ethnics. This low number of women in the UK construction industry lies in stark contrast with the current all-industry employment standard of 46% for women and 8% for black and minority ethnics ConstructionSkills, 2008.

Wates, which has regional offices in Manchester and Warrington, is a 113-year old family business built on people, communities and the environment in which it operates. Wates Living Space, the firm's affordable housing construction arm, is responsible for building or refurbishing around 26,000 homes every year, through more than 50 affordable housing frameworks.

Wates is doing its best to re-profile the industry and has a commitment to investing in its people through training and development, and nurtures long-term relationships with its suppliers.

The firm believes the construction industry is often widely misrepresented in terms of employment and opportunity and tries to promote the sector and its own business as diverse and inclusive.

The business has created an inclusive and supportive culture that allows staff to fulfil their potential and achieve outstanding performance. Wates was reaccredited by Investors in People to exemplary standards, it has been awarded both the National Council for Work Experience Quality Mark, which recognises employers who have reached the required standard of work experience provision and received accreditation to Committed 2 Equality, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes diversity.

Wates Living Space has built up a strong network of partners in the North West, including the Women and Work Sector Pathways Initiative, facilitated by CCI on behalf of ConstructionSkills, and Women In Construction Action Network to support female workers in the industry, Barnardo's mentoring project and The North West Employers Forum for Equality and Diversity.

The firm also partners Business in The Community to help deliver programmes tackling homelessness as well as working with school leavers and people from different religious backgrounds.

The firm engages with its supply chain, local SMEs and social enterprises to promote the industry. Wates commits to service level agreements at the early stages of projects to guarantee local labour, training and community involvement.

A resident involvement policy ensures that local people are able to influence decisions that affect them, their homes and their communities by being involved with the design and selection of products.

Wates' own employees have the chance to feedback their views in an annual staff survey. In 2009, the survey found that 93% of staff felt engaged with the business and 100% were committed to ensuring the company's success. The survey also showed four areas that needed improvement, so Wates set up working groups with staff to come up with solutions to these problems. Proposals were then presented to the management team to help shape regional business objectives and influence changes to training programmes.

Wates also boasts above average industry figures for female employees, 24%, and black and minority ethnics staff, 12%. A total of 15% of its workforce also enjoys flexible working, including part-time and home working. For those with caring responsibilities, a carers' network has been set up to offer support and advice.

The firm's building futures initiative, a two-week scheme aimed at long-term unemployed adults, provides soft skills and practical training as well as insight into the construction industry. Upon completion, participants are offered job interviews with Wates or members of its supply chain. A total of 65% of people who completed the programme have found full time jobs and in south Manchester, the firm employed five local residents as apprentices, working on their own estates.

North West Regional Construction Awards 2011The black-tie awards ceremony and dinner will take place on Thursday 26 May 2011 at Chester Racecourse. Please email Caroline Ellison on or call 0161 448 2424. For further information about sponsorship opportunities please contact Emma Looskin on or on 0161 295 5076.

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