Why Sisk is growing its staff training

While many construction industry training budgets are being frozen or cut, John Sisk & Son is increasing its investment in hands-on training at all levels

As a fifth-generation construction company with a 156-year history, John Sisk & Son has a lot to look back on with pride, but this 100 per cent family-owned business is very much focused on the future.

The company is aware the future depends on the talent it recruits and develops. That’s why this September Sisk is launching a new apprenticeship scheme, called the Excelerate Apprenticeship Programme, aimed at complementing its existing learning and development activities. Following the programme’s success in Ireland, where it has been in operation at the company’s Joinery Training Centre in Dublin since 1974, it will offer young people in Britain and in other regions in Ireland the chance to work their way up to become a site manager at Sisk.

Personal mentors such as Dave Tracey, who has been managing Sisk’s apprentices for more than 30 years, support apprentices on-site as they learn practical skills and see at first-hand how the construction industry works in the 21st century.

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“We believe that you’re best placed to lead a project if you have hands-on experience of doing the work involved in that project,” says Helen Walpole, human resources director at Sisk.  “We’re passionate about developing young people, male and female, from all backgrounds. Some of our best site managers have come up through our apprenticeship programme.”

Sisk now has 2,000 employees in Ireland, the UK, elsewhere in Europe and the UAE, with sales of around £1 billion annually.

“Over the past five years the company has been bringing together the various regional business divisions under a unified management team to become more efficient and to share good practice,” says Ms Walpole. “This is known as our ‘One Sisk’ approach. It’s also been the catalyst to review our previous graduate and apprenticeship schemes, and increase investment, but with fresh ideas and a more cohesive and consistent companywide approach. These various schemes are known as Excelerate.”

The new apprenticeship programme complements Sisk’s existing Excelerate Graduate Development Programme, which was launched in October 2013 and in September will have more than 70 people on the programme. Designed to develop a graduate to chartership in four years, it offers trainees work experience on-site and workshops focused on practical skills, supplemented with online modules for convenient, flexible learning.

Sisk continues to invest heavily, increasing the number of employee training days by 20 per cent on 2013

As part of the scheme, graduates might, for instance, find themselves working on the site of a new pharmaceutical plant in Ireland before moving on to a city-centre development in London involving listed buildings.

“In the time I have been on the Excelerate programme, it has exceeded all my expectations,” says Sisk graduate engineer Pooja Godhania. “Having a mentor allows me to grow at my own pace while at the same time challenging me to take on a high level of responsibility.”

Sisk’s training programmes also support its “zero” philosophy, aimed at creating a working environment with no accidents or injuries. While many other construction companies have reduced their investment in learning and development over recent years, Sisk continues to invest heavily, increasing the number of employee training days by 20 per cent on 2013. The Sisk family themselves are engaged in, have helped shape and are supportive of the company’s various training programmes, having come through the business themselves over the years.

As Ms Walpole puts it: “The idea that building and contracting is in essence about people, their skills, their training and their motivation, is one of the founding principles of the company – and guides us to this day.”

www.johnsiskandson.com