By Harrison Moore, Founder & CEO
THE RECRUITER DIDN’T mention I needed to take a cordless drill. When I got to site the supervisor was furious as I was the fourth bloke who’d turned up “drill-less, use-less or both.” I didn’t own one of those drills but I needed that job so I went and bought one after work.
But the supervisor had already decided I was out. I arrived the next morning to find I’d been fired. Suddenly I was out of work again, nursing a drill-shaped hole in my wallet with no idea where my next job was coming from.
The treadmill of insecure work
Tradespeople who rely on recruitment agencies will recognise this story. Moving from job to job on zero-hours contracts means none of the protections of employment are available and you have to make every job count. Your reputation is all you have.
When people don’t pass on vital information it has a disastrous impact on your livelihood.
Even with a student loan, I relied on agency work so I could afford to go to uni in London. It was tough. Careless recruiters are one thing. But there is a ton of other routine BS that “temps” like me have to put up with: hostile site teams, confusing employment terms, dodgy payroll fees, a treadmill of insecure work.
UK construction employs 2 million people and about 500,000 are working like that. I put up with it for five years.
The bundle of protections
Getting fired that day was a turning point. Uni gave me space to breathe and think creatively about the problems I and half a million others faced on the tools.
I decided to start something new: a recruitment agency on workers’ terms – one that used technology and good principles to ensure tradespeople were informed and protected.
My uni supported early R&D with funding and incubation. We got as far as building a prototype and landing a customer willing to try it.
But there was one circle we could not square: employment benefits. It was paramount that we gave workers the “bundle” of protections afforded to employees. But the money to pay for it had to come from somewhere and this priced us out of the market.
The only way around it was to use the same zero-hours contracts that kept us all trapped in jobs we constantly feared losing.
That wasn’t an option. We needed to pivot.
It was a great reminder of how important it is to obsess over problems rather than specific solutions.
The industry's demands
Now with over 3 years of research involving 1,000 hours of conversation and data collected from 240 sites across 160 towns, we understand what today’s construction industry demands of people.
Communication problems on-site don’t just affect workers but every link in the supply chain, and to solve problems for workers we also need to solve problems for contractors who face challenges on several fronts.
The industry has acute skills shortages and contractors have to attract talent from a shrinking pool of available workers. The CITB says we need an extra 220,000 recruits by 2025 while the FMB warns that “the health of the wider economy hangs on the construction sector being able to defuse this skills time bomb.”
Attraction is only half the battle. When workers quit a job (or get fired) it costs about £30k to recruit, induct and equip each replacement worker. One leading contractor we work with lost 240 workers from their HS2 sites in one year resulting in losses of £7m.
Moreover, a high-turnover workforce is a leading factor in unplanned re-work on which contractors each spend between £10-40m a year. That’s as much as their annual profits!
Finally sites are now the UK’s deadliest places to work and we’re not talking about slips, trips or falls. In 2021 thirteen times more workers died from suicide than from workplace accidents, which makes mental wellbeing the sector’s biggest health and safety risk.
The structural barriers
A growing body of research* proves that companies with worker engagement strategies have healthy staff that do better, more profitable work. They have fewer quality incidents, fewer safety incidents, less attrition and more profitability.
Engagement is table stakes in other sectors and there are clearly compelling reasons to bring it to construction sites. But there are structural barriers:
Workers are employed through a multi-tier structure that makes the relationship between those running the site and those doing the job disconnected
Workers solve problems they encounter on-site by quitting because it’s less risky (see blacklisting), less hassle and there’s always another job available
Workers are not incentivised to engage with contractors because they work for other firms, often on a contingent basis, and there’s no tangible payoff for doing so
It’s expensive for contractors to plan, deploy and maintain engagement strategies across multiple geographies and sites
Construction has the least digitally enabled workforce in the whole economy save for farming. Although tradespeople have smartphones and use them every day for banking, shopping and entertainment, they are not benefiting from the workplace communication tools that people in other sectors now take for granted
We built Worker Feedback Club to address these structural barriers and help contractors to enable and support all of the people building their projects.
With Worker Feedback Club, every worker has his or her own supportive manager in their pocket, giving them the confidence and respect of being de facto employees that are listened to and communicated with transparently.
It also gives contractors an edge at a time when social and governance reporting is transforming the industry as it becomes embedded in the decision-making processes of leading investors, developers and major clients.
The expectations of a workforce
There has been a huge shift in tradespeople’s expectations of work catalysed by the effects of having to continue working through the pandemic while watching the simultaneous rise of remote jobs.
The fact is that on-site, difficult, dangerous construction jobs are being looked square in the eye by a huge population of tradespeople who are realising that being on the front lines, and risking their health and safety, and being ignored, all at the same time, for a minimum or modest wage, is becoming hard to swallow.
Understanding the barriers to workers feeling safe and valued on-site, and the factors preventing projects from maintaining a stable and productive workforce, are key to securing a successful future for workers and contractors alike.
The Worker Feedback Club team
At Worker Feedback Club we’re a cross-functional team combining construction expertise with design thinking to test ideas quickly and build tools that help people get work done.
We raised venture funding from Europe’s leading tech-for-good investors in 2021. We signed our first commercial contract in 2022. And we’ve got groundbreaking plans for 2023 and beyond. Oh, and if you’re on the lookout for one, we’ve got a cordless drill for sale (used – like new).
Our mission is to bring people in construction closer together. Get in touch if you want to join us.
To learn more, book a Zoom call with our Founder Harrison.