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The collaboration game

Why working together can help the whole industry

Illustration: Wheel of fortune

Nice to see you, to see you nice! Construction is the name of the game and I wanna play the game with you!

Necessity is the mother of invention. This saying appears in the dialogue Republic, by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. I don’t think Plato is often referenced in CABLEtalk and in fairness, I don’t often reference him either.

We do indeed live in unusual times (the fact I’ve been asked to prepare this article is testimony to that, perhaps the first three lines of this article show why I’m not asked often) and the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the Scottish construction industry created the necessity for collaborative approach from trade associations to work for the benefit of the whole industry.

As you can see here, SELECT led on bringing industry together under the Construction Industry Coronavirus (CICV) Forum, raising issues with the Scottish Government and providing guidance for all those who work in the construction industry.

The Forum has brought together nearly 50 industry bodies and 78 individuals and has been extremely well received with significant positive outputs. And if it works due to necessity, surely we can do this in other areas because the necessity is not going away anytime soon.

There is currently real concern about future apprenticeship intakes for the industry. Plus, some of those who currently start a construction-related apprenticeship don’t complete it.

We need to ensure those joining the industry make an informed choice to increase the likelihood of them continuing to becoming a qualified tradesperson.

This is one area where I have worked in collaboration with others before. We do not pitch one trade against another but look to promote the industry as a whole. There is no point in having lots of roofers if there are no planners, architects, surveyors, electricians, bricklayers etc in the industry.

We worked with contractors, Developing the Young Workforce, CITB, National Federation of Roofing Contractors, Stone Federation GB, Historic Environment Scotland, local authorities, Architecture & Design Scotland, RICS, City Heritage Trusts and Conservation Area Regeneration Schemes, colleges, universities and others to deliver skills demonstrations in high-profile places and schools.

By giving school pupils an insight into a variety of roles within the industry, we can assist them to determine if a career in construction for them, and if so, which one.

BUT (and yes, there is always a but), it is not just the pupils – they have career influencers including teachers and parents, who we encourage to participate and this has exceeded all expectations.

We delivered an event in a town where the school couldn’t get a teacher to volunteer to attend and they could only get enough pupils to fill one of the sessions available to them. The next year, we returned to deliver a similar event, albeit slightly further away, and the teachers drew lots because they all wanted to go and the school asked for more places for pupils. We have now been asked to deliver these events in the school on a regular basis, which shows we CAN make a difference.

We delivered an event in Perth where the pupils used the council offices to get changed into their PPE. Part of the event was painting and decorating where they did marbling. When the pupils went back to the council offices to remove their PPE several went over to a marble pillar and tapped it to see if it was real or painted (it was real). Now they are looking at their built environment differently and can see the possible careers open to them.

As another example, when delivering an event in Paisley the apprentice who was delivering the roof slating demonstration asked me if I had been involved in the event in Perth the year before (which I had). He then said that was the first time he had tried roof slating and he was now an apprentice giving mini-masterclasses to pupils in Paisley, plus local MSPs including the Presiding Officer.

There are many good examples of school pupils pursuing careers in construction after being involved in the programme but the main focus of the events is to ensure those joining the industry make an informed decision.

So what can we do going forward? The secret is to look for areas we agree on. This was easy with COVID-19 and the industry going into lockdown as all efforts were focused on representing industry and providing guidance.

When we come out the other side, will we still be able to find areas of agreement in priorities and desired outcomes?

There are numerous other such examples where we can work together for the benefit of the whole industry and the challenge is to identify areas we agree on and desired outcomes.

Once you get momentum, it gets easier. For example, when we delivered an event outside the Scottish Parliament, the first time we asked for the space the MSP we approached to sponsor it said yes but didn’t think we would be allowed. After three months of discussions with the parliament to outline what we were going to deliver and get approval, they said yes. The next year, it only took one week and at the end of the event they said they were looking forward to seeing us next year!

The Parliamentary Events Team has been fantastic in working with us to allow us to run these events within the restrictions which the venue requires.

These events only work because a common goal is agreed at the outset. We spread the considerable work between many partners and deliver a tangible output – something I think we can all strive for.


Keys to collaboration

  • Agree common goals

  • Work in collaboration to

  • deliver them

  • Ensure there is always an outcome

  • Review, improve and repeat – then do it again


John McKinney

Secretary, National Federation of Roofing Contractors, Stone Federation and Scottish Contractors Group

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