Fortel Nijjer : Diversity, we’re on the precipice of real change

Diversity – it’s a term that everyone in construction is familiar with, but are we only now getting to grips with its true meaning?

Repeated calls have been made from far and wide for progress – from industry associations and business leaders to education bodies and eminent individuals – but I do believe that we are at the start of a change in attitude and culture.

As the chief executive of Fortel, the UK’s largest supplier of labour to the construction industry, I am well aware of the responsibility I have to play my part in this drive for greater diversity.

The fact we are a minority ethnic-owned business has meant that we have – and continue to face – a unique set of challenges, but it’s those challenges that have forced us to strive for success and pursue industry progress over the past two decades. 

We have researched and discussed the topic with some of our partner organisations, which agree that we may be on the precipice of real change.

Building on progress made

Graham Edgell, director of procurement and sustainability at Morgan Sindall, is also a board member of the Supply Chain Sustainability School. He notes that investment is needed to ensure successful programmes can build on their work consistently to ensure real change.

He says: “The Supply Chain Sustainability School’s Fairness, Inclusion and Respect programme is one of the most successful initiatives driving the message of inclusion across the industry, by creating ambassadors to promote this message in their own businesses and the sector as a whole.

“However, with a decrease in funding from the Construction Industry Training Board, the programme has stalled somewhat. We are fighting to keep it alive, but it is in danger.”

As a business, Fortel regularly collaborates with the Supply Chain Sustainability School on a range of issues, including inclusion. 

“I see 2020 as the year of planning, strategy and promises – 2021 needs to be really about progress”

Sharon Slinger, Construction Rainbows

Our senior leadership team has undertaken Fairness, Inclusion and Respect ambassador training and we would encourage other companies to do the same in order to keep this great initiative going.

Over the years, we have worked closely with Minority Supplier Development UK (MSDUK), which has been supporting and bringing together innovative and high-growth ethnic minority-owned businesses with global corporations for more than two decades, with an unshakeable commitment to creating more diverse supply chains.

Mayank Shah, CEO and founder of MSDUK, believes that to improve diversity and inclusion across the construction industry, greater accessibility needs to be created in the tendering process.

He says: “Now is the time to make a real statement about investing in communities and encouraging working with ethnic minority-owned companies.

“I think there needs to be a greater access to work for smaller businesses – we are at a starting point at the moment and for these businesses to grow, there needs to be more accessibility. 

“They can’t afford bid-writing teams so the bidding process needs to be more accessible.”

Top-down analysis

At Fortel, we have recently released our updated diversity and inclusion strategy, which brings together our successes and ambitions with regards to these values and how this impacts on our business.

Sharon Slinger, of diversity and inclusion specialist Constructing Rainbows, supported us in creating not only this document, but in analysing our approach to diversity and inclusion from the top down.

She says: “The construction industry is now realising it’s the culture we need to change, and thankfully there are many companies that are starting to address this. I see 2020 as the year of planning, strategy and promises – 2021 needs to be really about progress.”

We have brought together the wider thoughts of our friends and colleagues on diversity and inclusion in a white paper that you can read here.

Sat Nijjer is chief executive of Fortel

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