I have to admit that when I learned the theme for this year’s National Apprenticeship Week was ‘Skills for Life’ I smiled to myself. I’ve written a lot lately about how, regardless of age, we’re all still learning. We’re all on lifetime apprenticeships. And just last week I penned a piece in response to a quite shocking article on the difficulties and frustrations over 50s are facing securing work. Put simply, age shouldn’t be an issue. There is a balance to be struck. At Solomons it has always been about attitude and less about experience.
We welcomed our first ever cohort of apprentices just under 18 months ago. I can’t believe how quickly that time has flown by. Our motivation for developing our apprentice programme was simple: Quantity Surveying is facing a skills shortage at a time when those skills are in big demand. This is our bold attempt to reskill talented people from other industries and backgrounds and develop those coming fresh from university.
Yes, it is about driving the evolution of Solomons, but for me it is just as much about driving the evolution of Quantity Surveying and the wider construction industry. Our apprentices are different ages. Some have had careers elsewhere, others have decided to pursue a career very different from the one they set out to when embarking on their University courses. But they all have something in common – they want to be a force for positive change in our industry. They want to have an impact.
Because our profession desperately needs a makeover. When I interview Quantity Surveyors for new roles in our business, nine times out of 10 they reveal their ambition for the future is “to move into claims and disputes”. That can’t be right. Should the vision for a successful career be rooted that there is more money and kudos to be gained from seeking out compensation for one or another of the contract parties at the end of a project? Shouldn’t it be about getting a project delivered on time, on budget, without defects, while delivering socioeconomic and environmental benefits that not just meet to exceed expectations?
At Solomons we’re attempting, along with like-minded businesses, to follow this path. And I believe our people have a crucial role to play in encouraging those we work with to embrace and deliver new approaches, contracts and frameworks that incentivise main contractors and their supply chains – particularly SMEs – to deliver project excellence, sustainable practices, enhanced social value and investment towards Net Zero targets.
Our professional needs to develop exemplary collaborative and procurement skills. It’s our job as Quantity Surveyors to be a catalyst for innovation and cultural change and be part of the solution, not the problem. It may sound idealistic. It not just sounds, but actually is, going to be extremely hard to achieve. It needs all parties to accept that “lowest price wins” model simply doesn’t work. It just continues the trend of disputes, and projects finished late and over budget. No one wins, well I guess apart from those Quantity Surveyors I interview who are eyeing a career path that in an ideal world shouldn’t really exist.
At Solomons we continually push for more open and honest discussions with procurement teams as they put together contracts. We push for early contractor engagement. We want to break the voluminous contract flowdowns which mean that the parties most able to positively influence outcomes simply pass the responsibility down the chain, which means they’re not incentivised to even try. We want things to be clearer, fairer and more successful – so we can reduce the insolvencies, improve career prospects and build an industry of informed, agile, imaginative, collaborative professionals fit for the future.
Our apprentices, standing alongside our other team members, are on the front line in this “good fight”. They will be the driving force for positive change. They are a key to a brighter future for Solomons, our profession and the construction industry.
I love working with our apprentices. Their energy, drive, and hunger to learn reminds me of when I was starting out. Their appetite to learn inspires me to push myself and I know it has had the same effect on colleagues who, like me, are much further down their career path.
They ask a lot of questions. They have fresh perspective and ideas that challenge a status quo that desperately needs to change.
I’ve been hugely impressed with how much they have grown and developed and how they learn alongside colleagues in their teams. They are well and truly building skills for life. My hope is that these will help build a better future. That really is something to smile about.