Thank you Rod Bennion

After 12 distinguished years as Chairman of Construction Youth Trust, Rod Bennion has stepped down from the charity.

His departure, which was formerly announced last year, follows a period of remarkable growth in influence and reach for the charity. He handed over to new chairman Andy Wates of the Wates group at his final board meeting last month.

Rod’s period as Chairman has seen the Trust transformed into one of the construction industry’s most effective recruiting vehicles, providing career pathways for thousands of disadvantaged young people and raising the profile of the sector.

Numerous senior industry figures have paid tribute to Rod’s successful steering of the organisation throughout a time of great industry change.

In warm words that summed up the views of his peers, Mike Bialyj, the Construction Industry Training Board’s Director of Employer Services, said:

“During Rod’s stewardship, the Trust has gone from strength to strength. He’s been passionate about providing opportunities for young people to overcome barriers to employment in construction arising from their personal circumstances.

As a result, the Trust has helped many thousands of people over the years.

Rod’s drive, commitment and vision has been instrumental in growing the work of the Trust.  He has brought on board many new supporters to aid this growth who have bought into his vision and passion.”

And he added: “The CITB has been delighted to work with Rod and to support the sheer energy he brought to his role which inspired the rest of the team at the Trust. We look forward to working with his successor but we will all miss him.”

Christine Townley, the Trust’s Executive Director, who was recruited by Rod in 2004, also paid tribute to his chairmanship:

“Rod has been deeply instrumental in the growth and development of the Trust over the last 12 years. We have changed countless young lives for the better since he took on the challenge of Chairman, and it is clear that his passion for providing young people with a second chance is what has kept him loyal to the Trust for so long. 

“I would like to thank Rod for being a pleasure to work with and for his support during my first 10 years at the Trust.  His many years of experience in construction has helped us to become the industry charity for supporting young people into the sector.  I wish Rod the very best of luck in his next ventures and trust that he will keep very much in touch.”

Rod’s involvement with the Trust began at the start of the millennium. During his time as Chief Operating Officer at Wates, he was asked by one of his clients, John Carpenter, director of building at John Lewis, to join the board.

“I’d never heard of Construction Youth Trust,” he recalls (something no senior figure in the industry would ever say these days). Attracted by its aims and hopeful he could contribute, he made time in a hectic schedule to join what was then a very small organisation.

Says Rod: “The Trust had then been going for about 35 years, with no full time staff, and only a part time administrator.  Operating on a budget of £100,000, provided mainly by materials suppliers. The Trust gave small bursaries, bought tools and paid for travel costs, and helped perhaps 20 people a year.”

For his first two years as Trustee, Rod sat back and took it all in. But when he took over as Chairman in 2012 he brought about real changes to the way the Trust supported young people.

Rod describes this time of change: “I said it was my view that all young people have talents of some sort; it was our role to help release that talent and encourage them to come into construction. And I thought we could do it all in a more expansive way.”

One of his first steps was to approach Wates’ charity, the Wates Foundation, for support. It gave £45,000 to the Trust, which allowed him to appoint a director, Philip Wildman, the Trust’s first full-time employee.

“We then had to demonstrate we could do more than just hand out bursaries. We had to demonstrate our capabilities.”

Rod’s networking skills meant he had access to the industry’s Great and the Good, and he forged alliances across the sector, steadily building a firm base of corporate support for the Trust.

He brokered a deal with CITB, which was already investing a great deal of effort in trying to bring diverse communities into construction and has since proved to be an extremely valuable partnership for the Trust. “We’ve worked very well together, and repaid that early trust,” he says.

With solid foundations in place, Rod appointed Christine Townley to lead the diversity programme, which she did so well that she succeeded Philip in 2006.

Rod and Christine worked on creating what they called “The Journey to Work”. It had ten stages for getting young people out of social exclusion and  into fulfilling work and perhaps a career for life. Releasing the talent within, is how he describes it.

“So many people are failed by the education system,” says Rod. “They have no role models. They get stuck in generational unemployment. So the first five stages of that journey to work were all about the preparation of people, and rebuilding their confidence. Even simple things like getting up in the morning and doing an eight hour day are challenging for people who’ve never done that before. So we have to start them with four hour days and build up from there.

“To help with these stages, we created our Budding Builders programme, which is all about community skills workshops offering literacy and numeracy support which is built in to them in a practical way through acquiring construction skills.”

Stages five to ten focus on brokering jobs with employers. “To take just one of hundreds of example, we’re working with Southwark Council to help young people who are NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) to go on basic skills training programmes; and we then assist people to get their CSCS cards and find community-based jobs.

“We’ve also been very successful with young offenders by working with the Youth Justice Board, and using our connections to get them ready for work by engaging with them during their time within the youth justice system.”

Having met so many people leading difficult lives, Rod’s philosophy is non-judgmental. “All of us come to a fork in the road at some stage in our lives, and some of us need support to make the right choice and help to pick up the pieces when we make the wrong ones.  We work with young people so they can go on to be the best at their jobs”

Another game-changing initiative launched by the Trust during Rod’s tenure is the Budding Brunels programme, now widely recognized by industry and government.  Our accredited three-day programme offers bright young people from socially diverse and often very difficult backgrounds  the opportunity to take part in work experience placements with leading construction employers such as VINCI and Transport for London.

“We tend to concentrate on schools where many of the pupils receive free meals. We have great relationships with schools across London, Wales, Manchester and Birmingham and key clients who both support and commission our programmes by offering work placements and apprenticeships to outstanding students.

“It’s exactly what I did myself. I took my A-levels but didn’t want to go on to university, so I became an articled clerk with a quantity surveyor.”

Yet another impressive milestone during Rod’s Chairmanship has been the setting up of The Duke of Gloucester’s Young Achievers Scheme, which recognizes bright young professionals who’ve overcome adversity or helped others less fortunate. It quickly became one of the industry’s most prestigious and popular celebrations of success.

None of this development would have been possible without generous financial support from the construction industry. Rod and Christine have worked hand in glove to secure contributions that now deliver a £1.5m annual income – 15 times the budget when Rod came on board, with much of that brought in during the economic downturn .

“Yes, we have grown during the recession,” says Rod. “That’s because everything we do is demand driven, and employers can see we are creating the workforce of the future. Big companies realize there’s great talent out there: we help them tap into it. They’re not just ‘doing good’ – they want a great workforce.

“We are recognized now across the sector – people come to us to recruit for their workforce.

“We take young people, show them how exciting and varied the industry is, and the wonderful careers they can follow, and employers want these kind of bright young people. The demand is definitely there – we just have to make them ready for work.”

“I am tremendously proud to have played a role in helping people find jobs and careers in our industry,” says Rod. “And I admit to shedding a few tears when some of the young people who’ve struggled and overcome say nice things about how they wouldn’t have got anywhere without the Trust. And the Pink Ladies programme in Wales has also moved me greatly.”

Yet, despite the wonderful satisfaction he feels it is the right moment to move on. “It’s time for someone else, and it will be very exciting to see the future development. My succession has been well planned, and I’ll be fascinated to watch how the Trust continues to progress.”

Though stepping down from the Trust, Rod will continue to play a very active role in the industry. He holds three non-executiveships, one at McNicholas, where he’ll soon be introducing a Budding Brunels programme for engineers. “I’ll certainly not be sitting on my hands!”

His parting message? “Stay focused, and develop even deeper relationships with employers. We need to keep listening to their needs and understand the workforce they want. There are almost 900,000 young people not in employment education or training – it would be so wonderful if we could get 100,000 of them into construction.”