barratt development plc

Barratt Homes is part of Barratt Developments PLC, and is the UK’s largest volume house builder. In total the Group directly employs over 6,000 people, supports over 45,000 jobs, and has recruited around 1,150 new apprentices, graduates and trainees to its Future Talent programmes over the last five years.
Profit 2018: £835.5m
2018: 17,579 homes

interview with Abi Leeming & John Mathis

learning & development manager & learning & development project manager

When Barratt Development plc, the UK’s largest volume house builder, reviewed their training needs in 2009, they decided to set up an academy, the first of its kind in the construction industry, and the simulation centre has become a key player in its continued success.

barratt developments plc

After a long hard look at their learning and development requirements on the construction side of the business, Barratts identified a need to step up the formal core skills training Site Manager and Assistant Site Manger (ASM) training. 

At the time, training for these important roles was very ad-hoc and not formalised, with assistant site managers being dumped on a site and expected to learn the ropes from the Site Manager. The academy was set up with a view to attracting and developing potential site managers, giving them a solid programme with practical elements using experiential training where possible. 

the simulation centre was identified as a potential partner for some of this work, particularly in the people skills area, and health and safety. 

Early meetings between SHE managers and a construction director from Barratts with Janet Campbell from the simulation centre, soon began to explore and develop several scenarios that might be used in conjunction with the programme. 

the simulation centre team invited Barratts to a test-day, trialling different scenarios with the HR, Construction and Health and Safety departments all taking part. With support from senior executives and suitably impressed, the Barratts team confirmed that they were going to include the use of the facility in their training course. 

“They are real scenarios that have actually happened” says Learning and Development Manager, Abi Leeming. “It gives you a safe environment to try stuff out. You can get it wrong in the simulation centre, and it doesn't matter. You get some feedback on how you behave, how you reacted, and you can reflect and learn from it. Whereas in real life, you don't get a second chance with a customer.”

“The Assistant Site Manager Programme was developed in collaboration with and accredited by the CITB, engaging candidates in different elements of management skills needed to be an assistant site manager, but it was finding somewhere to put it in practice in a safe environment. And that’s where the simulation centre came in. We wanted a practical element to the course, but where we could observe the behaviours and give some feedback.  So that's why the simulation centre was ideal. “

Since then Barratts have put hundreds of ASM’s through the programme and admits that setting the bar high can be a problem sometimes; with turnover rates of construction staff at 23% across the industry, it’s been common for other builders to poach their staff, knowing they have been through the Academy. However, staff tend to have long careers with Barratts, and the high standard of training they offer including free safety training really helps with retention.

the simulation centre’s experiential learning specialist,  Janet Campbell, has worked closely with Barratts from the beginning, and the past four years with Abi Leeming has been highly collaborative and productive. On joining Barratts, Abi observed her first course at the simulation centre, and listened to some of the feedback from the people that have been through it. Since then Abi and Janet have developed the course, changing scenarios, updating and making them more relevant, realistic, and incorporating health and safety elements like the face fit mask.  “Janet has been really flexible and collaborative in terms of evolving the course and working with us” said Abi. “We've got the delegate side of things sorted now, and it is working really well. In the past 18 months or so we’ve done some work on the assessor/observer side of things, looking at the phone calls for example, to make sure delegates were getting the same experience on the phones. We now have a crib sheet so that the observers can give the same responses. We've also ordered some new notice boards to make sure that the office environment they work in is up to date and on brand.  We listen to the feedback every year, and Janet and I will meet a few times during the year to just tweak and play with it a little bit. So it has changed a lot on the 4 years I've been doing it and it’s always evolving.”

Barratts have also started using the simulation centre for a dedicated programme targeted at the Armed Forces community. The company recognised that that ex-servicemen and women have valuable transferable skills that help them to become excellent site managers and has been recruiting ex Armed Forces personnel to join a new accelerated trainee site manager programme. The programme, which is fully accredited by the Construction Industry Training Board.

“The feedback that everyone I spoke to Armed Forces wise, and sort said that it's the best thing that they can do” said Ex-Serviceman John Mathis, Learning and Development Project Manager. “To put them in to that situation is the best way they can be prepared for any potential situation, because you can offer so many different scenarios in such a short space of time. New assistant site managers from the armed forces can get left alone on site after six or eight months, and it's quite a daunting thing to sit there and think, I am left alone, I'm running the site. Going to the simulation centre, just gives you that exposure, and puts them in a really good place. And you hear that a lot. They go, Yeah, it's the whole of the course. It's the best thing that I do, because they feel so well prepared afterwards. 

Abi Leeming agrees that anecdotally the feedback from delegates has been extremely positive.  “They say things like, “this is the best training course I've ever been on” and “you know, I've learned so much about myself”, and the results speak for themselves when on the ASM course we see them progress to confident site managers within a year to eighteen months of completing the programme. The feedback delegates receive at the simulation centre is invaluable. Over the course of the two days, they get the feedback from the actors, which is useful because they don't always think about how they make people feel. We use people to observe from construction, HR and training, and SHE teams and delegates get such a varied feedback from different perspectives. And that feedback really helps them to learn. When you see the change from that first scenario on day one, to that final scenario on day two, they've changed so much over those two days. They generally take on board all the feedback they get, they're just in that scenario, and it's nice to see them just get into it, forget about the cameras, and they just get into their role. And they're picking up the phone and doing things that we've not asked them to do in this scenario, because they just think, Oh, this is what I would usually do then and then just treating it like work. It’s very realistic.”

Barratts place such importance on this type of training, that company directors including the HR Director, Group Construction Director and Safety Director are all totally invested and right behind these programmes, attending as observers, with David Thomas, CEO, shortly to attend one of the dates with the ex-forces team. 

Barratts will continue to use the simulation centre as it plays an important role in the continued success of their training programmes and are currently considering plans to use the facility and it’s team for Health and Safety training and potentially a Contracts Managers course. 

“It’s so innovative. It's such a great idea to have that safe environment to learn and it's so immersive” continues Abi. “the simulation centre is really well run, and the flexibility is so helpful too; there's been times where we’ve needed to change things on the day and team just respond and make it work.  And, when you work out per employee going through it, the for the return on investment that you get from them, it’s really good value for money.”

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