When the Floods Came: Costain's Project Management Academy puts them in position to swim through the industry skills shortage


In 2009 Costain won a prestigious Construction News Quality Award for their Project Management Academy and saw the knowledge level of academy members increase by 19% (measured using the Association of Project Managers’ Body of Knowledge scoring). Not ones to sit on their laurels, and with a 2009 survey by the Chartered Institute of Building revealing 77% of those working in construction believe there is a skills shortage in the industry, they knew that in order to see continued business benefits they needed to keep up the hard work. Determined to grow their own future leaders, at the end of March 2010 Costain decided to invest in 24 more of their potential leaders by running a two-day intensive development centre.

Jeremy Galpin, Group Talent and Skills Manager, wanted to really put Costain’s future leadership potentials through their paces; these are people who spend their day to day lives managing complex multi-million pound projects so this was no mean feat! However, Crelos rose to the challenge and spent a day putting the current and future Project Managers through a rigorous behavioural assessment based on a flooding disaster scenario that was designed to mimic many of the key challenges facing Project Managers. The scenario simulated situations that needed delegates to gain an understanding of the context they are operating in, recognise obstacles, think through options to overcome barriers and also use the more interpersonal skills it takes to overcome contentious issues when dealing with the complex interplay of satisfying multiple stakeholders. Delegates were dealing with an ever-changing field of operation requiring them to carefully plan their resources, keep the public safe, plan for the long term impact of their actions, as well as working with individuals from other agencies with different agendas and handle difficult questions from the public and press in an open meeting. Keith Hartley, Area M&E Manager, Four-D said "All exercises were engaging and because they were in small, consistent groups they built on team confidence and involvement. All in all it was an extremely well run event. It was focused and left no time for normal daily distractions."

As well as being observed in group and individual exercises to collect information of their behavioural strengths and limitations, delegates also underwent a Behavioural Event Interview to collect evidence of their behaviours in real life work-based situations. Ninety-five percent of delegates said they found day one challenging and all the delegates either agreed or strongly agreed that the exercises had been engaging. Rob Fancourt, Construction Manager stated “This was the most useful personal development programme I have attended” whilst Daniel Powrie, Construction Manager, Church Village Bypass said “It was an excellent training session. I personally felt better about my abilities and will certainly improve my Project Management capability and personal drive because of the centre.”

Aristotle said ‘knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom’ so, following the first day’s fast-paced, engaging assessment day, day two was all about individuals knowing themselves better and creating a plan to improve their performance. They received feedback from one of Crelos’ psychologically-minded, business-focussed development professionals and engaged in peer coaching to form actionable behavioural development plans. All delegates either agreed or strongly agreed that the development centre had provided them with new insight into their behaviours and they also all went away with at least two development actions. Richard Goodridge, Construction Manager, Portobello Pumping Station said “The feedback from the observers was excellent and I also found the Peer and Mentor session on the final afternoon very useful. Excellent feedback and I would relish the opportunity to participate in something similar in the future following implementation of my action plan”.

Costain is measuring the long term impact of the Academy by benchmarking project performance using a project assessment tool based on EFQM. At Crelos we also know that development isn’t just about a two-day event so, although all of the delegates said they would be more effective in their role as a result of the development centre, we have been keeping in touch to check on their progress. In the six month follow up evaluation, one of the Project Managers told us how he had been working on one of his limitations, he said “Having a very strong opinion on many topics, I used to air my views, even if those in the room were of a different opinion. Since the development centre, I have become more reserved, waiting to hear what others have to say, analysing their position before making my opinion known”. He believes that the development centre has been beneficial in his personal development and also had a positive impact on his performance. Aalok Sonawala, Business Systems Manager, states that there have been both long term and short term benefits of the Development Centre; he believes he has learnt new skills and he is now in the process of working on his strengths and weaknesses. He says “I have been through a similar session when I did my MBA at one of the countries best business school. I would rank this along with the best”.

Jeremy Galpin has been working with Crelos for five years on Costain’s talent management programmes. He says “‘The Costain Project Management Academy is integral to our group Talent Development process and the partnership with Crelos has been key to its success over the last 3 years. As a result of the PMA we have a clear view on what talent looks like in project management and are using the model to develop individuals and their successors and so enhance the capability of the Group”.

If you would like to hear more about how an academy could benefit your organisation or how Crelos can support you to design your own development centre please contact Alana Inness (07738 319204 or alana.inness@crelos.com).

Alana Inness Consultant