Case Studies - Helmsman Services

Case Studies

In 1997, specialist developer Countryside Properties plc appointed Tony Willson as its Investors in People Consultant. At the time the Chief Executive felt that the company was some way away from achieving the Standard but that, by working through the IiP framework, it would give tangible benefits to its people, as well as the business.

After undertaking a full staff survey and conducting many interviews, an Action Plan was devised from the feedback, centring on three areas – Communication, Performance and Training. Three Focus Groups were formed from volunteer members of staff and their recommendations were fed through to an IiP Advisory Group, made up of The Chief Executive and subsidiary Managing Directors whose remit it was to try to implement all suggestions, where practicable.

Tony facilitated the Focus Groups and advised on various aspects of the changes that they were trying to make, so that there was more possibility of them being accepted at Board level and successfully applied.

The Communications Focus Group aimed at improving all forms of communication and it soon organised initiatives such as presentations by the Chief Executive on the Annual and Half-Year Results and strategy, a very comprehensive Staff Newsletter, more staff social and charity events and a ‘Who’s Who’, listing details of all staff. The Focus Group also devised a comprehensive Mission Statement (‘The Countryside Objective’) which, when presented to the Main Board was ‘exactly what we would have said about the Company ourselves’. This statement still forms a driver for the business 9 years after being launched.

The Performance Focus Group’s main task was to devise and implement an appraisal system and this was achieved reasonably quickly with Personal Development Reviews being introduced as a pilot in 1998 and for all staff in 1999.

As it did not want to recruit its own Training Department to handle the needs arising out of these appraisals, Tony tried to find a company to whom to outsource the responsibility. When it became impossible to find such a company (mainly due the size of Countryside at the time) Tony agreed to take it on and started a business (Helmsman) to do this.

The Training Focus Group looked at how pro-active training could be implemented and soon, as an indication of the Company’s commitment, a company-wide, voluntary, training programme was put together and rolled out. ‘Skills 98’ consisted of 6 half-day sessions covering a range of soft skills including communication, time management, problem solving and teamwork. Main Board Directors attended, as well as some 200 of the then 450 staff and, with the other initiatives that had been introduced, the morale boost that it gave was very high.

The Focus Group also introduced a comprehensive Induction Day with a series of presentations, including one from the Chief Executive giving a company overview and one on IiP given by Tony Willson, followed by an afternoon visit to one or more of the current developments, so that all staff could see and appreciate the product. This was started in January 2002 and is still running in the same successful format.

With Helmsman’s assistance, the Training Focus Group also put together a rolling programme of around 40 courses (called ‘Training to Succeed’) that were offered at least once or twice a year and which have formed the backbone of the Company’s basic training.

A further Staff Survey was conducted in early 2000 and when compared against the original, showed a significant improvement in just about every question asked. Countryside were first recognised as an Investor in People in March 2000 and, having implemented a large number of the recommendations made by the Assessor, were re-accredited 18 months later.

Over the next 4 years, the Focus Groups looked at improving all elements of their remit and introduced various other initiatives to improve each of them.

In latter years however, because the major bulk of changes had been instigated, the role of the Focus Groups became more of a watching brief. The Company therefore, at the suggestion of the Groups themselves, changed the format of them, still maintaining the ‘bottom-up’ style of staff involvement. In 2006, the Internal Communications Advisory Group was formed and this covers all of the subjects previously dealt with by the Focus Groups – and more.

Helmsman has co-ordinated and managed every aspect of the delivery of all training and development from the point of receiving the needs identified by the PDRs, through to reporting to various committees and senior Directors. It deals with sourcing and contracting training courses, all aspects of their administration and evaluation, recording of all aspects of training for the whole of the staff, making the claims required by the Construction Industry Training Board and all Health & Safety recording and CSCS Card applications.

In the time that they have worked with Tony and Helmsman, Countryside Properties have maintained their Investors in People accreditation and have twice been featured in the Sunday Times ‘Top 100 Companies to Work For’ list and have also won the prestigious Building Homes Quality Award for Training & People Development, two years in succession.

Countryside Properties plc

Established as a family firm in 1895, Frederick J French was bought out by its management in 1946, since when it has been run by its directors. They have maintained a very strong track record of developing the skills of apprentices and other staff, in addition to providing excellent Heath & Safety training. One Joinery Foreman started with the company as an apprentice and spent his whole working life with the company and although staff may not now generally stay with one employer for their entire working life, Frederick J French still recognise the value of good training to both the company and the industry in general.

In their first year of working with Helmsman, the company is already benefiting from the wide range of expertise offered by us. And with increased CITB grants being claimed, the service provided by Helmsman is virtually self financing. As well as assisting the Directors, staff at Frederick J French have also noticed the smooth administration when attending training courses or when their CITB cards need to be renewed.

Before the CSCS scheme came into being, training was not formalised. The introduction of new regulations and guidelines, combined with the decision to become an Investor in People, meant that managing the training of its workforce of 75+ people was something that took up a lot of the time of one particular director. With their structured approach towards training, it also meant that as well as talking to staff about their needs and drawing up training plans, there was also a heavy burden of paperwork which was close to becoming an impossible task.

Early in 2001, the Directors of Frederick J French met with us and subsequently agreed that we should take over the administration and co-ordination of all training, including grant applications, other CITB initiatives and the monitoring of CSCS and CPCS cards including expiration and renewal, so that none are ever overlooked. This allows the people previously spending valuable hours on this, to have more time to concentrate on their main responsibilities.

Staff at Frederick J French have also benefited from Helmsman’s in-depth knowledge and experience of the best courses and trainers available. This is something that has not gone unnoticed by staff attending courses who have commented that they are now getting better training, they have actually learnt something and have been led by trainers who really made it fun.

Problems claiming CITB Grants through an ever-changing system have also been resolved by Helmsman and Frederick J French are now receiving a higher amount of grants than previously.

Although the initial handover did generate more work for Frederick J French they recognise that there is “No Gain without Pain” and with the administration system now set up and running efficiently, the benefits of working with Helmsman are becoming obvious, none more so than the fact that staff are keen to go on other courses and no longer see them as a waste of time.

From the Directors’ viewpoint, Helmsman provide them with a service that goes so far beyond that available from the CITB that they have recently taken the decision to reduce their participation in the local Training Group, as Helmsman representatives attend and can represent them anyway.

Frederick J French’s primary objectives were to concentrate on “bringing everyone up to scratch” by achieving minimum standards and managing CSCS/CPCS cards more effectively. In the future they plan to look at extending and enhancing training.

With Helmsman providing flexible support when it is needed and a range of expertise which a company of the size of Frederick J French is unlikely to have in-house, they can now spend their time doing what they are good at – building.


Conneely Drylining & Facades are specialists in interior finishes and exterior facades working with major housebuilders across the country. With 25 full time staff and anywhere from 100 to 500 subcontractors, the company decided, seven years ago, to outsource all of their training needs to Helmsman Services.

Michael Cockerton, Finance Director explained ‘With no HR or training staff in-house it became increasingly difficult for us to keep track of the frequently changing training needs and especially those required by safety legislation and regulations. We therefore decided to outsource all of our training to Helmsman and they have become an integral part of our team.

“The advantage of using Helmsman has been their in-depth knowledge of the construction industry, training strategies and the CITB Grants Scheme which has benefited us over the years by ensuring that we receive the training we need, when we need it and at value-for-money costs. They have also set us up with a Training Plan and given us advice about what we can claim, so that we have maximised the Grants received back from CITB.

In order to run an effective business, training is paramount. Therefore to have Helmsman completely managing our training function ensures that we are compliant.”

Helmsman devise Conneely’s annual Training Plan and submit it to CITB, then monitor it and deal with interim and final audits. They record all training, including a vast number of Toolbox Talks, for which they have organised a system that allows the company to claim substantial Grants. In addition they (and sometimes at short notice) arrange training courses for which they carry out all of the administration both for participants and training providers.

Conneely have found that the largest benefits are that:-

  • They can rely on Helmsman to speak to all relevant bodies and agencies, so that they don’t have to do so.
  • No expiry dates are missed on training certificates, as Helmsman will let us know well in advance of any happening
  • They respond to calls from employees and suppliers as part of the Conneely team, ensuring that it is a seamless process.
  • They have developed their own sophisticated software system thatise not available externally but which is essential for the smooth running of a training programme.
  • They hold all the information about Conneely and its employees at their fingertips and are able to pass full details about training onto them for the purposes of PQQs, Tenders and Accreditation applications, at the touch of a button.

Conneely Drylining & Facades