Vinci Construction UK has succeeded in unifying benefits for its stable of companies while battling the effects of recession, says Jennifer Paterson
When the recession touched down and speedily escalated in the latter months of 2008, headlines across the UK proclaimed that the construction industry was one of the worst hit. Declines in commercial construction and civil engineering contracts created many challenges for retaining and rewarding staff in the sector, not to mention keeping a cap on rising redundancies, pay freezes and halted contracts.
The entire construction sector was faced with limitations imposed on public sector funding, which resulted in reduced confidence in the market.
As if these challenges were not enough, during 2008, Vinci Construction UK was in the process of unifying a variety of businesses, integrating 4,000 UK employees and then harmonising and streamlining their respective benefits.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the economic climate, the company has had to be innovative in its actions over the past 18 months. Colin Jellicoe, Vinci’s human resources director, says: “We have had demands placed on us to be more cost-effective, so we have gone through a complete cycle of assessing our benefits providers and the costs, to determine whether we are getting value for money and providing the right sorts of benefit for our employees.”
Now, 18 months on, with the construction sector still keeping an eye on the rearview mirror, aware that it is not completely out of the tunnel, Vinci Construction UK is forging ahead with new offerings for its staff.
“What we had when we looked at the three parts of the business – Taylor Woodrow, Vinci and Haymills – was three very different sets of terms and conditions, benefits and providers,” says Jellicoe.
“We needed to look at whether we wanted to run all of these on an ongoing basis or whether there was any potential for bringing some of the benefits together.”
Benefits strategy rebuilt
The result was a complete review that kicked off in early 2009 and developed into a major rebuild of Vinci’s benefits strategy. To help achieve this, three employee consultation committees were set up to make sure staff were integrally involved in the communication of benefits changes and the exchange of feedback.
Jellicoe says: “The committees are a fundamental part of shaping what has happened in 2010 in terms of bringing together a harmonised contract of employment for the entire workforce, a complete repackage of policies and systems, and a benefits package which included flex.”
The review began with streamlining the company’s pension schemes. Over the years, Vinci has inherited a complex mix of [legacy] pension schemes through various acquisitions. According to Jellicoe, there were about a dozen running, a combination of defined contribution (DC) schemes and one lone defined benefit (DB) plan.
All these schemes were closed in March 2010 and a single group personal pension (GPP) plan, provided by Legal and General and offered via salary sacrifice, was put in place for all employees on 1 April.
On the same day, Vinci launched a new flexible benefits scheme, provided by Personal Group Benefits, for its entire workforce, aiming to harmonise many of the terms and conditions that differed between businesses. “Before we went into flex, we had a variety of car allowance schemes and a variety of general allowances,” says Jellicoe. “When we came out on the other side of flex, we had one set of schemes, one set of allowances, and we have used the flex pot to accommodate some of the changes we have made.”
Flexible benefits for all staff
Jellicoe says the typical benefits offering in the construction industry is a one-size-fits-all approach, and not many of the company’s competitors have taken the giant leap into flexible benefits for all employees. Vinci’s flex plan, which has been taken up by 2,700 staff so far, has a wide range of offerings. The only common perk missing is the buying and selling of holiday, which Jellicoe aims to add in 2011.
“We are very people-orientated, so we try to provide a range of benefits that encourage people to think about themselves at work, about their families, and try to encourage people to have a range of benefits that are working for them, as much as working for the company,” he says.
Vinci has also conducted a major overhaul of its vehicle policy, a perk that is one of the key benefits in the construction industry. Vinci boasts a 1,000-strong company car fleet, so fleet arrangements are managed in-house. Its travel policy comprises car allowances, a personal car scheme or travel allowances. “We had to make some rather painful changes throughout 2009 which have been about restricting the types of vehicle people have been able to have as company cars and under the car allowance scheme,” says Jellicoe. “In doing so, we have also made the fleet much more environmentally friendly, to the point where we have aspirations of constantly bringing down the average CO2 for the fleet.”
Moving forward, Vinci aims to sell what is seen as a new employer brand in the construction industry. “In terms of employees, we have got an excellent benefits package,” says Jellicoe. “We are seen as a business that holds a great deal of respect for our employees, and we need to shout more about the sort of things we do here which will attract employees.
“What we would like to improve, and we have always known we have a weakness, is that we tend to offer things and perhaps not shout about them as well as we should, so the level of awareness is quite low. We need to make sure people really understand the value of their benefits.”
Communication is key
So communication will be one of the key ways for Vinci to ensure staff are aware of this value. For the roll-out of all its new offerings, communication kicked off in mid-2009 with total reward statements. Other media used included the employee consultation committees, the intranet, presentations in early 2010 followed by one-on-one meetings, and online and offline media.
Jellicoe acknowledges there is more work to do in 2011. “We are in a very difficult climate at the moment and the important thing is that we have got to come out of that climate on the front foot,” he says. “That means we have to be ready in terms of our business structure and the benefits we offer, to encourage people to join.”
Jellicoe says the problem for Vinci was that, having brought together some of the major names in construction, employees who are now part of the Vinci group did not necessarily choose to join Vinci – a number of people had chosen to join Haymills or Taylor Woodrow.
“We have got quite an exercise in terms of our brand and what we mean to people, and we have got a strategy which is around being consistent, being fair, about delivering benefits that people want, and about those benefits reflecting values that the company stands for,”
says Jellicoe. “Lots of good things happen at Vinci; we have just been shy about telling people about them. I guess the times are changing.”
Vinci Construction UK at a glance
Vinci Construction UK is a construction, civil engineering and facilities contractor operating mainly in the UK market. Its clients include the BBC, TK Maxx, DSG International and Nationwide Building Society. The company is responsible for the construction currently in progress at London’s Tottenham Court Road, Victoria and King’s Cross railway stations.
Known in the UK as Vinci plc, Vinci is the French parent company which operates in 100 countries, employs about 162,000 staff, has 3,500 subsidiary businesses and a turnover of €31.9bn.
The Vinci parent company has been in existence for more than 100 years, but Vinci plc first appeared in the 1990s. In 2009, Vinci plc reorganised its operating activities by consolidating them within Vinci Construction UK and has culminated today in the company’s purchase of a number of well-known construction brands, including Norwest Holst, Taylor Woodrow Construction, Crispin and Borst, and Haymills.
- 1918 Holst and Co founded in Watford
- 1923 Norwest Construction Holdings founded in Liverpool
- 1969 Holst and Co merges with Norwest Construction Holdings to form Norwest Holst
- 1998 Norwest Holst becomes Norwest Holst Group
- 2002 Norwest Holst Group renamed Vinci, and Crispin and Borst acquired
- 2006 PEL Interiors acquired
- 2007 Weaver acquired
- 2008 Gordon Durham, Stradform, and Taylor Woodrow Construction acquired
- 2009 Haymills acquired
Career history: Colin Jellicoe
Human resources director Colin Jellicoe joined Vinci Construction UK in 1993 as a personnel and training officer when the firm was still known as Norwest Holst. He has been climbing the company’s human resources ladder ever since, taking over as senior HR professional in 1998. He has been in his current role for just under three years. In his first-ever HR position, Jellicoe was a personnel officer at the shipbuilding and heavy engineering firm Cammell Laird Shipbuilders.
Jellicoe sees his role at Vinci, as well as the other human resources roles within the business, as integral to the whole organisation. He aims to change human resources at Vinci “from a very transactional process and department to one where we add real value to the bottom line of the business and we get involved very early with changes in the organisation, with contracts that we are bidding [for], and we are seen as integral to the success of the business by the business”.
He adds: “We have learned from 2010 that we need to narrow the focus for benefits even more, so we will use focus groups and employee feedback to shape what 2011 will look like.”
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Becky King, an assistant engineer with Vinci’s building north division, joined Taylor Woodrow Construction as a sponsored student five years ago. She became full-time in 2008 and moved across into Vinci that same year, along with 1,700 other staff.
King manages sub-contraction on site, sets out planning and programming, and makes sure that jobs are built to specifications. Currently, she is working on the Whiston Hospital project on Merseyside.
One of her favourite benefits is one that was made available only during the flexible benefits selection period in April. “I used the scheme to buy a Gourmet Society card to get money off in restaurants,” she says. “All my friends and family can use it as well, so it helps save some money.”
King also takes advantage of Vinci’s voluntary benefits offerings. “I use the [voluntary] benefits scheme to buy travel insurance every time I go on holiday, which is quite useful because it was cheaper than the other ones I looked at,” she says.
The benefits at Vinci Construction
- Group personal pension plan; 4-8% employee contributions, 100% matched by Vinci.
- Private medical insurance for all; extra coverage for dependants via flexible benefits.
- Vouchers for VDU users; additional vouchers through flex.
- Critical illness and personal accident insurance through flex.
- Income protection and dental insurance offered through voluntary benefits.
- Company cars or allowances available depending on job role. Personal car scheme via flexible benefits. Trade-up arrangements through salary sacrifice.
- Home working and flexible working arrangements.
- 26 days, rising to 27 after eight years’ service.
- Construction industry holiday pay fund.
- Childcare vouchers and cycle-to-work schemes.
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