Turner & Townsend’s UK managing director Patricia Moore tells Neil Gerrard how the company is upskilling its workers in preparation for the digital age.
If you want to know why training is such a big issue at consultancy firm Turner & Townsend, then you only need to look at the sheer number of its new recruits each year.
It’s a people-hungry business, bringing on board 1,000 employees in the last year alone to help support its growth rate of around 20% per year.
“We’ve been in double-digit growth for as long as I can remember,” says UK managing director Patricia Moore. “We are delivering 10% growth in the UK, which in current market conditions and the scale we are currently at is a strong performance as well.”
The business prides itself on delivering technical excellence and in order to try to differentiate itself from the competition, it needs to train people in the “T&T way”.
To that end, Turner & Townsend has recently overhauled its training for both incoming graduates and management, in a way that takes account not just of its growth, but of the rapidly shifting way in which the construction and property sectors are evolving.
Revising the training programme
A core part of that change is the company’s new ‘technical training academy’. “All of our people in our technical competence areas will work through a series of different levels in the technical training academy to get ultimately to advanced level,” Moore explains. The course, which has four levels of attainment, is delivered through a series of digital and classroom modules and ends up with scenario-based training where employees get to solve a problem together, which Moore claims “really embeds the learning”.
Patricia Moore CV
1988: Royal Navy in Scotland, trainee QS working in marine civils
1994: BSc in quantity surveying, Edinburgh Napier University
1995: Jubilee Line Extension Contract 102, cost management services
1999: MSc in construction law and arbitration, King’s College Centre for Construction Law
1999: Joined Turner & Townsend as a commercial manager
2006: Promoted to head of rail, leading the team that won Crossrail
2015: Promoted to MD of UK infrastructure
2018: Promoted to UK managing director and executive board member
Meanwhile, the company is completely redesigning its management training and its global leadership programme and that change too is related to the company’s rapid growth as well as wider changes in the industry. “A big focus is around how we are making our managers able to lead and develop a more intensely diverse workforce,” says Moore.
“The other big thing is dealing with changes in the industry and upskilling for different skillsets. We have developed a massive digital programme for our core cost management service. We knew we had to get into digital upskilling and we took probably our most technical skillset, which is our cost management service, and we have digitally remastered it so there is a whole series of apps and platforms that people then systematically work through.”
The next step will be to adopt a similar approach to project management services to make sure its project managers are ready for a digital future.
Meanwhile, recent acquisitions such as engineering consultancy Suiko and AMCL, which specialises in asset management, are helping to bring in new thinking. It also helps that, as of 2020, the business estimates that around 40-50% of its workforce is made up of millennials.
Of course, some of the drive to change comes from the clients the company works with. It has several internationally renowned technology companies among its client base who also exert an influence. “Working with tech companies does raise your consciousness about it,” says Moore. “And we have other really progressive clients like Heathrow. As part of the Heathrow expansion, we have got the ability to look at modern methods of construction (MMC) on a mass scale. They are one of the biggest clients and they are embracing it and driving the change rather than just talking about it.”
Patricia Moore on…
“We have got big ambitions about putting carbon at the heart of our 2025 vision (the company’s five-year plan, which will be set this year). We are looking at how we can quite easily start to measure carbon capture alongside our cost management service for instance.”
…making staff feel valued
“I think we have a really rich offer for our people, including exposure to working with some of the industry’s best clients. And we underpin that with a really solid peer group and a very compelling technical training programme and management development philosophy and programmes.”
“Our training is synchronised with the professional bodies and our academy really dovetails into the professional institutions. The challenge now is the diverse skillsets that are coming in. What will the professional pathways of the future look like?”
Keeping up with technology advances has helped Turner & Townsend’s performance too, Moore contends. “We are taking market share from many of our competitors now because we are able to offer not just being able to trade in a BIM environment and a fully digital project environment – of course we can do that – but we can independently assure the BIM model too, which is really attractive to clients.”
She adds that clients recognise now not just that BIM can help manage risk and prevent inefficiencies, but is also useful when it comes to asset performance once the building is finished: “Even the blue-chip developers who don’t necessarily have an interest in the asset see that as a saleable product see it is a big part of their offer going forward. So it is really exciting and we feel really well positioned through the investments we have made.”
Turner & Townsend has also been working hard to address the imbalance between men and women in its business. Currently, around 30% of its workforce is female, although Moore points out that its early careers cohort has a balance that is closer to 50/50.
“We were quite pleased that this year we have been able to drive a reduction in our gender pay gap both in terms of base pay but more significantly in terms of our bonus pay,” Moore says. “For us it is about how do we drive progression and retention of our female staff. I think we are getting the attraction bit largely right. We have targeted getting female representation on all of our boards across our global business by this year.”
Moore explains: “I work a lot with our early careers programme, our female gender groups, our diversity groups. And I encourage them to think about what it is that helps you to be successful. I always put the growth mindset at the middle of all of that.”
She concludes: “Change is our new constant and if people start with the right attitude and get a deep technical grounding in their field, it really sets you up for a long and interesting career.”