Unlocking qualifications in lockdown

Image credit: CALA Homes

A cohort of construction site management professionals from CALA Homes used Scotland’s construction industry shutdown period as a means of career progression, in an initiative which has been hailed by all those involved.

20 of the housebuilder’s employees used the Covid-related downtime to take part in an innovative programme geared towards achieving one of two advanced SVQs in site supervision and site management. All have been successful, with 17 members of the group even managing to secure their awards several weeks ahead of the industry standard.

Glasgow-based training provider Esteem Training delivered the virtual programme as part of CALA’s Construction Academy of Excellence, which condensed course lengths by an average of 25% when compared with traditional in-person workshops.

Linzi Shearer, CALA academy manager, told Project Scotland that it was a ‘no brainer’ to work with Esteem Training, having been immediately convinced of the firm’s credentials and ability to implement a digital programme in such unpreceded times.

“They were a breath of fresh air,” she said. “It has been fantastic – they were very proactive with their approach, from the point of the initial discussion with Andy the business development manager and subsequent conversations with Esteem’s director, it was really clear that they had a long-standing track record of delivering unique and interesting learning experiences and that their model of delivery pre-Covid was already differentiated from many of their competitors.”

Linzi added that she has long been an advocate for a more digital approach to learning in the construction industry. A previous role saw her lead the development of a CITB-funded project which focused on addressing skills gaps and shortages at site supervisory level through a more blended approach to training.

Although the programme during lockdown achieved a 94% candidate pass rate, Esteem is not solely an online training provider. Despite having an electronic portfolio for over a decade, the firm still puts great emphasis on in-person learning and group work which allows for individuals to learn from each other.

Martina Höfner, operations director at Esteem Training, told Project Scotland that the concept of a traditional webinar was ‘not going to be an option’ for Esteem. She explained the business wanted to keep its engaging learning environment.

To achieve this during the restrictions, the programme was delivered using video communication technologies, with the candidates being split into groups of anything from two to five – maximising the ability to learn collaboratively and receive support from the course leaders. 

“We had to just jump in and get involved,” Martina said, upon being asked if there was any hesitation about delivering a fully digitalised course on such short notice. “Because we’re such an innovative team we do embrace change – I think it was about us just accepting the uncertainty and dealing with it.

“We did spend time at the offset investigating what the best way was for our candidates to complete toolkits online. We are dealing with a broad spectrum of ability with candidates – so it’s getting something that suits everyone.”

Martina added that emphasis was put on smart phone applications, given their prominence in today’s society. As a result, the firm’s toolkit – which contains learning materials and learning technologies – has been adapted to reflect the emphasis on online learning, as well as having the eventual move back to in-person teaching in mind.

Linzi said the experience has already had an impact on the way the Academy will move forward. “I think the pandemic has been a catalyst for change,” she revealed. “The return to ‘normality’ is already happening, with all our teams now back on site – certainly the absolute onus is on continuing with a blended delivery model for the Academy.

“We will absolutely be harnessing the virtual training model, developing courses with digital learning in mind, and looking to reduce classroom time without compromising on quality. We recognise that while it’ll undoubtedly bring up new challenges, it allows for more flexibility and will save us on costs, travel time and time spent offsite.”

Most candidates reacted positively to the method of learning. Aiding them in achieving the qualifications was obviously the priority, but both firms acknowledged that lockdown presented mental challenges that had to be acknowledged.

“It was so lovely to read the feedback,” Martina said. “It was fantastic, the feedback was great and overwhelmingly positive. The feedback was all around the difficult time and the fact that they were able to use that time to achieve the qualification.

“They felt that they were being supported, and that came out quite strongly in the feedback. Across the board was that all the candidates had an emphasis on the supportive nature of Esteem and the speed at which they were able to get through it.”