In an interview with LBN the managing director of Liverpool city region property restoration specialist Forshaw Group urges his fellow employers to invest in training to revive the UK economy. Tony McDonough reports
Over the last couple of years there have been numerous press reports of multiple UK business sectors struggling to recruit the right people.
However, Liam Hanlon believes it is about time employers started to make more of an effort to invest in apprenticeships and training. He said: “If more people did that then we would be in a lot better position than we are now.”
Since 2013 Liam has been managing director of Knowsley-based Forshaw Group. Employing around 100 people in Merseyside, Manchester and North Wales, Forshaw is a property restoration specialist.
It works with insurance companies and loss adjusters and secures work renovating commercial and residential properties damaged by fire or flood across the UK.
Liam himself started his working life under the old Government-funded Youth Training Schemes (YTS) and he is passionate about offering similar opportunities to young people, locally and across the UK.
His demonstrates his commitment to the wider community in a number of ways. He has taken part in environmental clean-ups and has raised money for good causes in a range of ways – including climbing Mount Everest in 2022.
He explained: “I came through a YTS, trade apprenticeship – four years in joinery. I worked through every level of site management from a trade foreman to general foreman, site manager to contracts manager.
I became the managing director of the Forshaw Group in 2013. It is a family business that is 75 years old this year. It has a long proud history – it grew from being a sole trader venture.
“My path has given me a passion for investing in young people and developing the skills we need for the industry. I think everybody should have a responsibility for that
“Unfortunately what I see is a lot of businesses that don’t engage with the difficulties and the expense, and emotion, of training people. They just want to wait until they have trained and then come and poach them off you.”
Forshaw helps to create opportunities for young people under two separate schemes. Firstly, it has joined forces with other businesses across the UK in the insurance-led property restoration sector.
Called INS-pire, it is a national academy where all the members pledge to take on and train young people. On a local level Forshaw is a member of the Knowsley Apprenticeship Partnership and the Knowsley Schools Partnership.
For more than five years the business has been working with All Saints Catholic High School in Kirkby. Liam added: “As part of the relationship with the school, we have arranged more than 150 placements for pupils.
“That is all around early engagement with young people – starting at around age 12 or 13. We go into the school to explain what we do as a business and as an industry and talk about the career opportunities we offer.
“We also talk about what they need to do to take advantage of those opportunities. Then they write to us with what we call an ‘expression of interest’. They will tell us that they have heard what we do and want to find out more.
“We then bring them in on open days, offer a week work experience and interview days that hopefully, they will get a job offer at the end of it.
“And it is important to say it is about creating sustainable jobs. It is not just about bringing kids in for a year or two and then binning them off to bring more in. We aim to produce the skills we need to make sure we have a sustainable business for the future.”
Liam acknowledges that going down the apprenticeships path can initially be hard work for a business but he insists the potential rewards make the journey worthwhile.
“Once a business has established a training pathway then it becomes more straightforward, but initially it is a difficult process,” he said. “You have to find the colleges, the funding and then you have to find out where the potential young people are.
“It is how all that joins up and sometimes it can be a bit of a dark art. Hence the idea behind these academies and partnerships to make it easier foreverybody. By working together we can make it easier for everyone involved.
“Training someone from scratch makes sense from a culture point of view. A young person will have fewer preconceived notions so they pick up the culture of the business more quickly.
“You can mold them and shape them into the roles that you want. That, of course, is a two-way thing. It has to come from them as well. And to see those young people develop in the role and become integral to the business is very satisfying.
“We have some great examples of young people coming into the business and creating real success stories. There are NEETs (youngsters who are not in education or training). They start with us and train for two years.
“One lad, Mike, started in 2014. He was a school-leaver with no qualifications and not much hope. Nine years later he is now a surveyor working for a global insurance company.”
Liam is frustrated at the reports of businesses saying they just can’t find the right staff. Recruitment has become a real challenge in some sectors with employers burning money on hiring temporary agency workers.
But he says the solution to this is easier than people think. That by investing in apprenticeships and training they can transform their own businesses and increase productivity across the UK economy.
He explained: “At any given time we would have six trainees at Forshaw in any given year but across the partnership that adds up to around 15 to 20 a year.
“What we are doing isn’t huge in the great scheme of things. But if every employer in the country was doing what we are doing that would have a huge impact on the economy and on the skills shortage. There are just not enough businesses doing it.
“What we are trying to do as well is raise awareness that we actually exist. In the last few years the Government and schools have been geared towards steering young people into university.
“There are youngsters in all kinds of debt and they may have a degree that isn’t interesting to employers and they end up employed in roles they are over qualified for.
“They could come into our industry and learn a skill or a trade and they could be earning as much as a top professional by now. That is the message we want to get across.”
One conundrum Liam would really like to solve is how to persuade more girls to come into the industry. He said that despite efforts to engage, training take-up remains low.
He added: “With girls it is a challenge. We have around 2% female uptake of traineeships in our sector. It is something we actively promote but it just doesn’t seem to be attractive for some reasons.
“More technical roles such as engineering have better take-up from girls but in the trades it is very difficult to attract and retain people. It is tough but we are open to looking at ways we can change that.
“The plan is to keep doing what we are doing but there is only a limited amount of time I can offer so we need to get that message out there. Tell people we have these great training and career opportunities.”
For Liam, it goes to the heart of his and Forshaw’s wider social responsibilities. The business has a strong reputation for supporting local communities and doing business in a responsible and sustainable way.
He believes apprenticeships are one of the most powerful ways we can transform our communities.
He said: “This can be life-changing for those school leavers. Without us going into the schools and speaking to them and cultivating those relationships, what would happen to a lot of those young people?
“And we really need buy-in from the schools as well. It is a two-way thing. The school has to be open and engaged and they have to give the students time to engage. It takes a lot of effort from a lot of people to make it successful.
“At the end of it you may ask ‘well is it worth it?’. Well if you are changing just one young person’s life then that is making a real difference.”