A Qualified Workforce: by Mark Priestman

Mark Priestman is a Partner at Priestman Associates LLP, a leading fa√Åade 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. 07876 687212. [email protected].

I spoke today with a business existing hand-to-mouth, with the owners worrying how they would keep their workforce secure. My heart goes out to them and to all the other businesses in a similar situation.

As we come out of the latest lockdown and face the prospect of the usual new year winter slowdown, it’s very much my hope that they (and all of us) have brighter days ahead.

The holidays this year for some are not so much a virtue as an  endurance. So I’ll refrain from talking about them in a celebratory way and instead focus on how we might use the time so that after the festive season as many as possible are work-ready. My focus will, of course, be on skills, training, and qualification.

Covid-19 awareness

Those you work with, particularly those with responsibilities under the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2015, will want to know your workforce is coronavirus aware.

You can demonstrate they are by incorporating risk management into the induction, risk assessments and method statements you write.

There is a free CITB online toolbox talk called ‘Covid-19: Setting up and operating a safe construction site’ that managers and supervisors could use. You can access it at: bit.ly/Covidcourse.

Online training

The CITB has two other online courses that could make life easier: 

  • The ‘Health & Safety Awareness eCourse’ (for £99)  at bit.ly/CITBHS 
  • ‘Site Management Environmental Training Scheme eCourse’ (for £149) at bit.ly/CITBenviro.

It is worth searching online for ‘Free online training’, adding terms such as ‘construction’ and ‘stone industry’, or keywords like ‘façade preservation’, ‘stone fixing’ (or whatever areas you are interested in) and see what shows up as useful to you and your team’s continuous professional development (CPD).

The BRE has a free course on ‘Part L for the Natural Stone Industry’  (bit.ly/BREpartL) regarding the energy performance of buildings.

Managers and directors might be interested in the BRE’s online ‘Talent Spotting for Business Success’ course at bit.ly/BREtalent.

Trade federations, product suppliers and professional bodies often provide free training.

Freecoursesonline.co.uk offers a range of government-funded online training. ‘Awareness of Mental Health Problems’ was one that caught my eye, with more than half of sick days now accounted for by mental ill-health.

Training Matrix

Is your training matrix up to date?  By which I mean: do you know which qualifications your workers hold? Do you know what the gap is between what they hold and what they should hold? Do you know when updates are due? Can bookings be planned now? Are you using appraisals to investigate where talent can be encouraged to grow? Do you know how training and qualification enrolment can help employees and companies achieve their goals?

An employee who is empowered, empowers your business.


There is no better time for enrolling people on an NVQ to evidence competencies. Off-project time is ideal for collecting evidence together for NVQ portfolios and much assessment can now be done remotely for Covid safeguarding, with the added benefit of people not being drawn away from their work on Covid-safe sites.

Plan the next step

Even if you are not ready to start enrolling now, have an action plan ready. Read up on potential courses, programmes, and qualifications. Gather prices and curriculums. If you cannot take your focus away from operations, delegate the task to ensure it is prioritised.

A qualified workforce gives you a competitive advantage, so whatever 2021 throws at you, you will be in the best shape to benefit from it.