Learning together to create one team

Katie Robertson, Design Manager for Sewell Construction, and Martin Standley, Project Manager, reflect on how important sharing learning and experience is in the construction industry, and the benefits that this can bring for all stakeholders.

We all know how important it is to keep up with training. Regulations change all the time, and that means we also need to adapt, to ensure our sites are safe, legal and compliant.
Some businesses may think themselves content with training their staff, but here at Sewell Construction we like to think a little differently. Yes, we want our staff to benefit from training, but why not widen the circle of knowledge to our suppliers and clients too?

We’ve been making the effort to engage more with our supply chain partners for a while. For the last couple of years, we’ve been hosting regular supply chain workshops. Getting as many suppliers in the same room at the same time, off-site, it enables us to forget daily issues, step back and see the bigger picture. These were originally designed to help us stay in touch with our key supply chain partners, and get feedback on how we can improve the way we work together. But we also wanted them to be able to get something positive out of the day, so we started offering CPD opportunities at the event. For an hour or so, we’d give an update on a key construction topic – for example, sustainability – followed by a group discussion. It’s the perfect opportunity to get different perspectives, and helps inform our own approach to the subject. It also gives people the chance to engage with the views of those who they wouldn’t normally interact with – when else could you get a debate between a flooring contractor and a steel erector? So far, throughout our workshops, we’ve managed to engage with people involved in providing over £50m of subcontracted work for us over the past few years, so it’s definitely proving popular and having an impact.

This year, we’ve decided to take this further. As we looked at upskilling our own team on the recent changes to the Building Regulations 2023 and Building Safety Act, we realised that most of the industry were also right at the beginning of their journey to understand the new regulations and their obligations.
Initially, we organised a training session for our staff on the topic, and invited some of our key supply chain partners to attend. It’d be really useful, both to have our subcontractors knowledgeable about the regulations, but also to provide their perspectives on the issues we covered. News of our planned training session spread, and we started to get more requests to join, from stakeholders throughout the construction chain. We made the decision to open up the session to all our partners – not only suppliers, but consultants involved in the planning process, local government officers and clients. In the end, we had over fifty people in the room, with more joining online.
We think the effort involved in planning the session was worth it, and here’s why:

Safety is our top priority
Safety is always at the top of our list, as it should be for all construction businesses. Ensuring the full chain, from subcontractors to clients, know how regulations have changed means everyone can embed the processes into their way of working, making buildings and sites safer for workers and end users.

It reduces mistakes
Sharing knowledge with our stakeholders mean we can be confident that no stage of the process will be held up due to misunderstandings of rules and responsibilities. We know our clients will be sure of the steps they need to follow in order for us to begin work on site, avoiding costly and time-consuming hold-ups.

It gives background
Rather than just telling people what we’re doing, they will understand why. This ensures both suppliers and clients are aware of the steps we need to follow, and will appreciate and recognise why we’re following processes that may feel arbitrary or overly bureaucratic.

It allows a different view
The learning isn’t all one-way. By understanding how regulations will affect our stakeholders – something we may otherwise have been unaware of – we’re able to help mitigate any disruption in advance, and plan to work through any potential issues.

Single team approach
Learning together encourages a collaborative approach – something we believe always contributes to better outcomes for any project.

Since our training session, we’ve had a lot of great feedback from those who attended, and people are already asking when we’re going to be running more training.

Rebecca Smith, Estates Projects Officer at our client, Humber Teaching NHS Foundation Trust, was one of those who attended the session. She found the training to be “remarkably informative”, praising its interactive element and comprehensiveness. She said the approach to training “showcased a thoughtful strategy to engage a broader audience”, giving her the opportunity not only to understand the regulations herself, but also to see how they applied to contractors.

It’s all about building momentum, so we’re already planning more events for the future, based on subjects such as net zero requirements and biodiversity. We’re looking forward to all our stakeholders coming along on the journey with us, and know we can learn as much from them as they can from us.