Training : Mark Priestman

Mark Priestman writes a column about training in Natural Stone Specialist magazine.

Mark Priestman has more than 20 years’ experience in the natural stone sector. He plays an active role in the development and delivery of training in this specialist environment. Along with his father, David Priestman, he runs a training consultancy whose mantra is: Qualify the Workforce!

Mark Priestman is a Partner at Priestman Associates LLP, a leading façade preservation project consultancy. From stonemasonry and heritage skills through to Site Supervision and Conservation Management, the partnership is trusted by the leading brands of the sector as an NVQ provider for experienced, upskiller and apprentice workers.  Mobile: 07876 687212. [email protected].

Some people thrive on stress. But while appropriate stress can be a motivating factor, inappropriate stress makes us ill, unhappy and jeopardises our welfare and the welfare of our colleagues.

With this in mind, the Construction Industry Training Board has been flagging up concerns relating to the construction industry and stress. 

In fact, the CITB has made this alarming headline statement: ‘Construction employers have awarded the sector a score of only 4.5 out of 10 for its overall performance in managing workplace stress, according to a recent CITB stress test survey’.

Stress, of course, is inevitable. And while a fair amount of stress is established in the workplace (deadlines, interpersonal relationships, getting paid) a fair amount is also bought on to site from elsewhere (home life, a relationship crisis, money worries, illness and so on).

The CITB telephone survey of more than 100 construction employers found that around a third described their workplaces as having a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ stress environment. It is worth reiterating that this isn’t the identifier operatives gave, but their employers!

This in itself is not the most alarming part since the construction industry is used to managing hazards via risk assessment. More concerning is that 20% of employers surveyed were unsure how they would support an employee suffering from work-related stress. And 47% felt they were not equipped to suggest formal solutions to tackle the problem.

Naturally, the solution to this issue will need to come holistically from a business’s (or, more likely, an industry’s) response to its workforce.

Kevin Fear, Head of Environment and Health & Safety at CITB said: “We need to put an end to the culture of ‘silently coping’, which can be damaging to both worker health and business performance. Encouragingly, some contractors are starting to develop policies and great initiatives to promote good mental health and wellbeing. We’d like to see the organisations that are making good inroads in this area share their experiences widely so that others across the industry can learn from them. We want others to pick up this mantle...”

How might ‘a qualified workforce’ contribute to the identification and management of work-based stress?

The following two areas are repeated throughout the literature dealing with this subject:

1.         Stress is frequently compounded where there is an absence or lack of good communication. Choose practices that encourage daily communication and a sense of free expression.

2.         Anyone involved in any level of supervision should be proactive, not just responsive to identify stress-related issues in the workforce.

It is important that in recognising these two points, training and development is used to complement and inform ‘changed behaviour’.

Most nationally recognised qualifications (and for sure NVQs) are developed and reviewed by industry experts to ensure their relevance to the workplace. Employers can contribute much by being involved in this contribution where possible and by using these qualifications as a development method for their workforce.

In my experience, though, qualifying operatives alone doesn't produce the most effective changed behaviour. A top down approach is the best model as the operatives’ training will then run seamlessly through the systems and policies the business develops or revises thereafter.

For everyone’s safety, for the highest quality output to be achieved, and for our sector’s enhanced reputation, we want cool heads under those there hard hats.