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EvaluationZone workshop transcript: Soft is hard


This is the transcript from the online workshop held on EvaluationZone on 3 May on the subject of evaluating soft skills training.

Paul Kearns Hi Stephanie - here we are again.

Stephanie Phillips Hi!

Paul Kearns Hi Claire.

Stephanie Phillips Hi Claire.

Paul Kearns Where are you from Claire?

Claire Barry I work for the West Midlands Centre for the Built Environment in Birmingham. We help those working in Construction to improve their performance at work through training and provide links to training offer by professional bodies.

Paul Kearns I used to work in construction.

Claire Barry What did you do?

Paul Kearns I worked in HR and training, often claiming grants from the CITB!

Paul Kearns Can you give us an example of some of your training?

Claire Barry I would like to do that to improve training opportunities for women. I am visiting women at the moment who work in construction to get their views.

Paul Kearns At apprentice or managerial levels?

Claire Barry Both. I did a women in construction taster day in April. It was very successful and enjoyable.

Paul Kearns Do you think the macho culture puts them off?

Claire Barry It can be a bit intimidating at first for women. I have been to see a scheme in Oxford that does training just for women at the craft level.
Paul Kearns My guess is entry to the industry has to be made much more women friendly. I remember some very intimidating supervisors.

Paul Kearns Hi Richard. Shall we begin?

Claire Barry Yes please.

Paul Kearns I wonder what skills women will bring that men tend not to?

Claire Barry Better organisers as they are more used to trying to balance home and work life?

Paul Kearns I think you're right but would we call this a soft skill? I tend to think of coaching as a soft skill, and listening, empathising etc. But the evaluation question is do these really make a difference.

Claire Barry I see what you mean. Better mentors as they have better listening skills - you typed quicker than me!

Paul Kearns No hurry - take your time. Would construction projects benefit from improving these skills?

Claire Barry Yes they do. I have been looking at mentoring schemes for women (and men) in construction.

Paul Kearns Can you put a business case?

Claire Barry Yes. It would improve projects and help increase numbers of women and men entering the industry. It would improve their development opportunities - help them to stick at their career. Help them to stay with one company so that if that company invested in their training.

Paul Kearns So retention in the industry might be one measure...

Claire Barry It could help business performance - better qualified could also encourage new entrance to construction - when role models go into schools and colleges.

Paul Kearns Do better-qualified staff mean shorter project times and lower costs, or is quality the main issue?

Claire Barry More quality I think. Shorter project times and lower costs can depend on other issues e.g. technology and having to rely on others - working in teams.

Paul Kearns Can we look at your mentoring idea in more detail? Have you got any mentors in mind?

Claire Barry Yes.

Paul Kearns I wonder how you might set it up? What would you tell the mentors, what would their objectives be?

Claire Barry Get the mentors round a table and brainstorm. Ask them how they got into construction. Ask them what support they needed when they started out in construction. Ask them what support they need when they are qualified.

Paul Kearns How about their greatest achievements?

Claire Barry Yes - good idea. The quantity surveyor I mentioned gets a real buzz from working on different projects and visiting different sites.

Paul Kearns How about what skills they think they have needed?

Claire Barry Team working. Communication skills. Team building.
Paul Kearns Great - I think we're onto something.

Claire Barry Marketing. Confidence to give oral presentations.

Paul Kearns Can we take team work as an example?

Claire Barry Verbal skills seem more an issue than written skills.

Paul Kearns Even better. Here's a great question - ask them what the difference between a great team and a poor team is. How would they answer that?
Claire Barry Probably don't rely on technology too much. Understand what other professions do. Understand what pressure others are under - deadlines etc.

Paul Kearns You're probably right, but I think we ought to get them thinking more about performance. Asking them for actual eg's of projects that went well and did not go well and trying to find out why?

Claire Barry Good idea.

Paul Kearns But even more importantly, ask them how teamwork generated more value on the project.

Claire Barry Great!

Paul Kearns We're back to costs, overruns etc. snagging lists...then we're into cause and effect. What caused the long snagging list, for example...this would be an interesting debate! I wonder if improved communication would help? Back to verbal skills and instructions, do you think women do this better?

Claire Barry Yes. Is it something you can learn or is it inherent? People see to think it is inherent...

Paul Kearns I thought you might say that - I think you can learn to do it better.

Claire Barry I agree.

Paul Kearns That's why I'm a trainer! Now, an idea for you. Do you know many women in the industry?

Claire Barry Yes - across the professions as well.

Paul Kearns (Hi Linda, hope you can catch up.)

Paul Kearns I wonder if you could get some of them involved in this?

Claire Barry What do the rest of you do? Do you work in construction or have any experience? Do you know any women who I could talk to? Men have good ideas too!

Paul Kearns Any views Linda? I'm not worried about making a case for women or men, just a case for effective skills development.

Claire Barry I am not worried either.

Paul Kearns Based on experience of when skills have made a difference...

Claire Barry Most women just want to be treated the same.

Paul Kearns Exactly. Have you any research on projects that worked well and why? Did the intangibles of communication and sharing knowledge seem to matter?

Claire Barry There are case studies on successful projects but I have not explored them yet. From talking to people in general it is communication and sharing knowledge that helps. You have given me food for thought on how to develop this further. It could make a better mentoring scheme.

Paul Kearns One last idea - Have you ever used flowcharts?

Claire Barry No. How?

Paul Kearns Take a normal planning (Gantt) chart and look at the steps involved on the project. See how long each step should take, any steps that take longer than planned, look at what caused the delay. I will guarantee it comes down to two possibles: Over-promising delivery dates they can't meet or not being honest with each other and giving realistic deadlines. Check it out.

Claire Barry I will. It is a good idea for use in schools to get them thinking about how exciting construction can be as well.

Paul Kearns Now, any questions Linda if you have managed to read this far?

Claire Barry Thank you.

Paul Kearns My pleasure. This medium is a good way to introduce ideas but not lengthy discussion, as you can see. At EvaluationZone we take the view good development takes time, and we are always looking at new issues.

Claire Barry Yes it does. I often need to sleep on an idea and modify it over time.

Paul Kearns Me too - that's why I'm not a great fan of long days in the classroom. We need time to try ideas out and then discuss how we got on.

Claire Barry Yes. You need to put things into practice - not all theory!

Paul Kearns Exactly. If there's no more questions shall we call a halt?
Paul Kearns Thanks for your input Claire.

Claire Barry Okay. Thank you for your help. Can I have a copy of the above.
Paul Kearns Yes I am sure Stephanie can help with that.

Claire Barry Thank you very much for your time.

Paul Kearns Good luck.

Find out more about evaluating soft skills training.

Read the full workshop timetable for 2002 here.


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