Solomons Europe, like many businesses, is operating within an industry facing a significant skills shortage. As an SME, we are acutely aware that if we and our profession are to thrive, we need to actively provide both accessible and engaging routes into Quantity Surveying careers. Our People and Performance Manager Victoria Clements takes a look at what we’ve been doing to ensure the business, and profession thrives.
Over the last 5 years, we have developed an array of gateway courses that have helped to convert 14 Higher National Diploma (HND) and bachelor’s degree graduates from a wide variety of backgrounds into confident Quantity Surveyors supporting complex and major developments in Cumbria and the North.
In early 2021, as the nation grappled with the widespread economic and social impact of the coronavirus pandemic, there was increasing discussion about a “lost generation” of graduates discovering little, if any, employment opportunities after leaving university.
Grasping this nettle and building on a successful history of developing career conversion candidates, our Leadership team put solid plans in place to recruit and train the next generation of high performing individuals in our sector.
Our apprentice and graduate schemes
Last year we took the bold step to develop a dynamic MSc Apprenticeship route aimed at both graduates and career conversion candidates. We partnered with the prestigious University College of Estate Management (UCEM), who’s courses are underpinned by the RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors), to offer 6 Quantity Surveying Level 6, MSc Apprenticeships across the North – 3 of which were based in Cumbria. This equates to 10% of the company.
On completing a two-year MSc Quantity Surveying course, the apprentices embark on a further nine-months of training before taking an MRICS End Point Assessment and review. If successful they will secure much-coveted Chartership – something that can typically take upwards of 5 years to achieve. This tough fast-track programme is supplemented with relevant, varied on the job assignments and additional in-house skills development workshops which look at topics such as the Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills, Workplace Resilience & Wellbeing (WRAW), and other skills needed in our evolving world and industry – spanning digital, legal and communications.
All of this work falls under our own evolving in-house Future Skills Academy. The Academy demonstrates our steadfast commitment to ensure all of our apprentices and career conversion candidates are fully prepared for the world of work and are one step ahead when it comes to responding to new developments.
Our People & Performance Team – which includes me and Dawn Powell – undertook a robust recruitment process for our first ever apprentice cohort. This looked well beyond the apprenticeship applicant’s CV. We wanted to truly understand the motivations of each individual and identify the professional and personal transferable skills – along with the new perspectives – they could bring to Solomons and the industry. Their focus was not only fixed on bringing in “new blood” to our profession but also on people with fresh thinking – something that can only lead to more diversity and inclusion in the years to come. Successful applicants held non-cognate degrees such as Geography, Law with French, and Sports Science. Some had already forged successful careers in Government communications, Data analysis and even professional cricket.
“An apprenticeship is right for me as I’m able to use my skills to tackle a challenging, but exciting, mode of study, while putting the Master’s degree into practice in the workplace. I feel supported in my studies as I’m constantly surrounded by professionals at Solomons, who all seek to promote excellence, and encourage my professional development, giving me the skills to flourish throughout my future career,” Rachel McSharry, Assistant Quantity Surveyor, MSc Apprentice
“Balancing client work with studies and life beyond has certainly proved testing at times. However, I am a massive believer that nothing worth having in life comes easy, and the entire team at Solomons have been nothing short of incredible when it comes to providing invaluable support – whether I have reached out for it or not,” Cameron Field, Assistant Quantity Surveyor, MSc Apprentice
Spreading the word
From grass roots through to Chartered Quantity Surveyor level, we truly believe lifelong learning is essential for all our people to ensure a fulfilling and rewarding career. We are proud of our alliances with the likes of Inspira and Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster, helping to raise the profile of varied careers in secondary schools and beyond. We work closely with the RICS and ACostE to share knowledge and experiences, helping people to propel their careers and grow their experiences. Similarly, if we see a training gap that we need to fill ourselves, we roll up our sleeves and create initiatives that fit the bill.
A true demonstration of this was our ‘Team 15’ programme. This brought together people from Solomons and other businesses from a wide variety of industry sectors across the North with ambitions to become Chartered professionals – in the process partnering complimentary businesses and people to share fresh knowledge and perspectives. A number of our team members who took part also embarked on our follow-on APC (RICS’ Assessment of Professional Competence) Accountability Club and attained Chartered Surveyor status within 18 months of completing the Team 15 programme. The Accountability Club specifically supports team members with an ambition to secure Chartership but who need to find the extra momentum, guidance, and encouragement to go through what is an extremely demanding process, representing a whole team effort.
Celebrating our young professionals
We celebrate every success at Solomons no matter how big or small and love sharing the stories of our talented teams both internally and externally. Our internal communications platform is regularly updated with news of new hires, graduation ceremonies, apprentice intakes and internal promotions. “Team Insights” are regularly published on our website, which capture individual progress and snapshots from our project teams. Our LinkedIn page and website herald news of our successes and inspirational stories. Our Pay it Forward ethos ensures everyone in the organisation not only hears about the achievements of our young professionals but have the chance to support their journey by sharing knowledge and experience through mentoring and buddying opportunities.
Our peer-to-peer networks ensure those at similar stages in their career, and on similar journeys, can move forward as a team, share ideas, vent frustrations, and provide support and encouragement. During the coronavirus pandemic, we harnessed the power of MS Teams to connect our people across Cumbria and the wider North more easily and provide opportunities to learn together. This has involved live virtual CPD sessions to keep our teams up to date with latest developments, as well as health and wellbeing focused ‘Lunch & Learns’. Virtual “water cooler” moments help our people to catch up, share good news, celebrate success, welcome new team members, and offer support, and proved vital during lockdown periods.
“My motivation to Pay it Forward comes from my own experience of a career change from Costs Lawyer to Quantity Surveyor. The support I’ve received since taking the plunge has been incredible, so I’m more than happy to pass on any knowledge and experience I’ve gained to try and help others where I can.” Rob Branwood, Project Quantity Surveyor, career conversion trainee
Climbing the career ladder
The culture at Solomons is built around an ethos that ensures talented, passionate, and driven team members are not held back by hierarchical structures or glass ceilings. We have implemented a new process for fast-track promotions across all levels that recognises and rewards the achievements of all our team members. In the last year 20% of our team have secured promotion to the next rung on their career ladder – moving a step closer to achieving their long-term goals. In the last 12 months 42% of our career conversion trainees have secured promotion, and this figure is set to increase further as they continue to gain new skills and knowledge.
The vast majority of team members undertaking the APC Pathway to MRICS – which represents more than 10% of our workforce – are aged under 29.
We invest heavily in our people and developing the next generation of Quantity Surveyors – a profession that is continually evolving to meet the needs of a changing industry. Raising the profile of these efforts internally, has proven to help drive others forward. We have created a virtuous circle of support, recognition and reward that creates the high-performance culture we are now becoming renowned for in the marketplace.
A bright future
We go above and beyond to support everyone at Solomons, working hard to encourage all team members to be the best they can be. The various training pathways created across the business demonstrate clearly where career journeys can lead, with hard work, resilience, and determination. Recognising the value of lifelong learning and the necessity to support personal wellbeing, we take a holistic approach to nurturing our next generation. We want them – and our industry – to thrive. And we see a future that is full of potential.