Don’t mention the abbreviation ‘CSR’ on Esh Group territory. For in the corridors of power at the firm – which has its Yorkshire headquarters on Thorpe Park in Leeds – it’s a banned phrase.
It is indicative of business box-tickers, says Darush Dodds, added value manager at the multi-faceted construction, housing, infrastructure and engineering group.
And his job title is a clue of the preferred terminology at the company.
“It is difficult to quantify exactly how corporately responsible a company should be and to who? When it comes to social investment some businesses adopt the ‘pay and display’ model, throwing a bit of money at a community project and then shouting as loud as possible about it through PR channels and in tender submissions.
“We try to take a different approach at Esh, proactively supporting students, apprentices, young offenders and community groups in our operational communities, often above and beyond contractual requirements. We deliver such projects at no extra cost to our clients. This is important to Esh Group, it’s in our DNA, and we want to put something back in to communities wherever possible.”
A cynic may say, in industries as competitive as those Esh is involved in, talk of added value is essential in standing out from the crowd in the battle for contracts. But, while Dodds believes it can make a difference in terms of contract wins, any businesses engaging in such activities purely for that reason are doomed to fall short and be found out in the tendering process.
“We always try to provide added value even if it isn’t specified in a tender. Since the recession there has been a much greater focus on pricing generally, but at the same time the needs of many of the communities we work with have also increased so we’ve tried not to compromise on our socially responsible activities. In fact in the recession we grew our added value team.”
Next year will see Esh Group ramp up its ‘Esh Employability’ programme in Yorkshire. Esh has supported the development of employability skills in schools for 10 years now, working with students to open their eyes to local opportunities, raise aspirations and show the link between curriculum subjects and the workplace. Over the course of the academic year, Esh Group staff and representatives from a number of major employers will deliver employability workshops within the school timetable. Mentor support will also be provided and, at the end of the year, pupils will have the chance to experience the workplace environment and sharpen their interview skills.
“Business men and women don’t go into schools to teach, they go there to open students’ eyes to opportunities, to inspire and to act as a curriculum catalyst,” Dodds says.
And those business people come from an impressive range of major brands and employers. In all, around 30 companies are on board from a wide range of sectors. In the finance industry for example, Barclays Bank, NatWest and Lloyds are all taking part, while councils, the NHS, Premier League football clubs, recruiters and even the nuclear sector are among the parties represented.
Next year the Esh Employability programme will be rolled out in Sheffield Park Academy, Richmond High School, Endeavour High School in Hull, Archbishop Holgate in York and Sir Thomas Wharton Community College in Doncaster. This is in addition to Allerton High School in Leeds which Esh has worked with for three academic years.
Dodds says: “Our aim is to give young people a better understanding of the workplace and local businesses and also to empower employers to create engagement opportunities. In Yorkshire we hope this results in us developing the workforce of the future through a structured, transferable and sustainable engagement model. It also provides a private sector substitute for programmes previously delivered by local authorities.” This will take Esh’s school total nationally to 30 schools engaging with 6,500 students, this is expected to rise to 50 schools next year in line with projected business growth.
With Dodds overseeing the process of encouraging companies to get involved in the scheme, he believes there is a recognition within the Yorkshire business community of
the need to improve the employability of school leavers. He also cites research that shows it is making a tangible difference to the youngsters themselves.
“Before starting on the scheme 43% of students we surveyed felt they had a ‘poor to average’ understanding of the job application process. Afterwards, 81% felt this had improved significantly. Also, beforehand 51% felt the quality of their CV was ‘below average’ and would not be confident presenting it to a potential employer. On completion, 85% rated their CV highly and ‘could not wait’ to send it to employers.”
With Yorkshire suffering skills shortages in a number of key areas and many employers looking to increase their intake of new staff next year, the initiative can only be of benefit to the businesses in the county. Meanwhile, Esh is also working to increase employability skills among young offenders and other hard to reach young people using a similar approach to its schools work.
Currently around 60% of young offenders who leave custody reoffend within a year according to national statistics, resulting in an estimated £13bn cost to the taxpayer through police, courts and probation activity.
On the back of such trends, Esh has created and now oversees a programme called Chance for Change (C4C) which brings together 22 employers and other organisations from across Yorkshire and the North East.
“Through regular engagement and positive mentoring, we believe we help to break the cycle of reoffending by enhancing employability and life skills prior to release,” Dodds says. The four month programme was initially launched at Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institute Deerbolt, which houses 18 to 21-year-olds in Barnard Castle near the County Durham / North Yorkshire border.
Within the group of organisations who are involved are bakery giant Greggs, Northumbrian Water, Barclays and an array of social landlords, many of which are Esh’s clients. Managed by Esh’s added value team, programme is delivered to prisoners in the latter stages of their sentences within the prison itself. It covers workshops delivered by business guests, with prisoners developing an employability portfolio, gaining interview experience and temporary release licence opportunities.
“The financial and social cost of reoffending is a big issue, not just with central government but within the communities in with Esh Group operates. Having a track record of engaging with hard to reach and vulnerable groups the C4C programme is the next natural step in our added value evolution.”
Alongside its focus on employability, Esh last year launched its new Esh Communities programme in Yorkshire, backed by its Charitable Trust.
Esh Communities Yorkshire offers grants of up to £1,000 to neighbourhood groups, organisations and charities across Yorkshire to support new and ongoing projects or services making a difference in their area.
With an estimated £500,000 invested every year into its added value services – as well as considerable amounts of people power – Esh is one company that could certainly not be accused of ‘pay and display’ practices when it comes to meeting its social responsibilities.
Esh Group, Yorkshire
Esh Group opened its doors in Yorkshire in July 2007 under the historic civil engineering brand, Lumsden & Carroll. Within 12 months the company more than trebled a first year income of £3.6m by expanding the range of services it offers and the sectors it operates in.
The company now employs over 120 people, with a turnover of £45m in 2013. Chris Walker, divisional director of Esh Construction says: “We have grown quickly in Yorkshire because of our strong reputation for delivering contracts on time and on budget. We enjoy a strong financial position and we are committed to supporting the communities we operate in.”
The company works across the social housing, commercial build, education and civils sectors. Both Esh Property Services, specialists in the social housing sector and Esh Build, commercial builders, have shown significant growth in Yorkshire over the past six years. The company recently completed the renovation of The Tetley in Leeds, to create a new cultural space in the heart of the city.
Esh Construction’s civil engineering business works with Yorkshire Water to provide reactive and planned repairs to the wastewater network, completing around 12,500 jobs a year, with 6,000 being blockage related. Esh Facility Solutions provides planned and reactive building maintenance across the region and recently secured a major contract with Leeds University.