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one to one with

Karen Jones

MICHAEL DINEEN talks to Karen Jones, human resources director at Redrow.

The housebuilding industry is leading a movement away from expensive university courses and helping ebb the overflow of unemployable graduates with degrees in silly subjects. Where is the movement – modest at present but significant because of its very existence – taking these young people? Into useful craft training which can see a teenager qualified as a joiner, for example, earning a good living as a self-employed freelancer, independent and without the huge debts associated these days with graduation from a university. Bubbling with enthusiasm, Karen Jones, human resources director of Redrow since 1997, when Blair and Brown were directing youthful traffic into universities, says the tide is turning away from all that. “When I started with Redrow it was very difficult

to recruit craft apprentices. Today I can expect 700 applications for six places.” “Since the university fees debate started raging we

have been getting much better quality apprentices, but back in 1997 I used to be frustrated by schools’ careers staff telling me higher education was the only way. Craft apprenticeships were very much the poor relations.” “Now it has really started to turn around, and I think parents, as well as teachers, today are agreed about this. A craft apprenticeship is such a solid start to a career.” Not that Jones began her career like that. She is

a philosophy graduate from Nottingham University and the first of the three jobs she has had in her working life since then was with accountants Coopers and Lybrand; the second was with Hays the consultants, who gave her a taste for the cut and thrust of London business life and later invited her to join their training consultancy wing. In fact it was when Hays asked her to carry out a six-week training consultancy stint in her home city of Chester that Jones first encountered Redrow in 1995. “I’d never heard of them.” But they must have liked her report for less than two years later

20| July 2011 showhouse

Redrow asked her to join them to manage their in- house training. Two years after that she was appointed director with responsibility for all the company’s human resources work. She is justly proud of Redrow’s training record

for, although there was a spell during the recent recession when they put student recruitment on hold, they have never made a trainee redundant. And now they are back in the recruitment business, under the auspices of the Construction Industry Training Board. They provide a secure environment for apprentice joiners, bricklayers, plumbers and plasterers who are given a chance to work on Redrow sites from which a career path is encouraged to assistant site management – and beyond. Promotion in-house is a policy Jones enjoys pursuing. It’s her ambition to chart the progress of a trainee through a career, culminating in an appointment as managing director. “So far we have two directors who have come through the system.We are very keen on internal succession, rather than always having to bring people in.We have started a graduate programme, working on personal development.We employ just under a thousand people and 200 of them are on these personal development plans.” Redrow employs a professional training staff

who have themselves to be familiarised with the housebuilding industry – a process which can take between three and 12 months on the Redrow payroll. Much of the training takes place at a dedicated

unit in Tamworth where Jones works when she is not attending executive committee meetings at the firm’s HQ in Chester. These are essential to her overall training plans,

she explains. “Learning about details of a product range such

as New Heritage at these meetings ensures that we adapt training programmes for the sales teams. In this case to make sure that their approach emphasises the lifestyle aspect of buying into this range, rather than merely boasting about posh cookers.”

So, training in Redrow pervades from boardroom

to site office. And there’s plenty of evidence in the industry that a lively brickie or chippy can reach the top from modest beginnings. The stipulation so far as Karen Jones is concerned is that craft trainees complete their apprenticeships. “By the time they’re 19 they can be qualified in a trade and able to become self-employed, or working for a contractor or even become a trainee site manager with us – and all this without any of the debts incurred by university students. It’s hardly surprising that we are seeing a clear move from higher education to craft training.” What surprises me is that we don’t see more industries following the example of housebuilders such as Redrow.When Tony Blair, with hand on heart, proclaimed his dream of ‘Education Education Education’ – meaning further education – somebody should have asked, ‘What about the workers? What about the people who actually get their hands dirty, the craftspeople who have been dwindling in numbers so much that we have to import them?’ Jones underlines the national training situation when she reminds us that the housebuilding industry is the only one left which still has a levy. This is the contribution housebuilders make to the Construction Industry Training Board. The CITB must be feeling the pinch more than

most in the wake of the huge building industry staff cuts during the bank-led recession. Just in case this article seems hostile to higher education I’m reminded that Redrow is no stranger to the milk round. “We do presentations to undergraduates, and

we make sure that they grasp the attraction of careers in the industry.We present our case at Reading, Oxford Brooks and Nottingham Trent and invite them here to take tests and learn more about our industry.” With a foot in both camps, academe and trade, Jones will not be drawn on which will produce the first home-grown managing director for Redrow. In the present climate, with craft apprentices so much improved, it could go either way.


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