At WJ, Jordelle Henriques represents the changing face of the road marking sector and the wider highways industry. It is no secret that the industry has a substantial gender imbalance and a chronic skills shortage. However women like Jordelle, are an example of how we can address these issues and begin to attract a more diverse, young workforce, but continual improvement will require a more concerted effort from our industry.
Jordelle is the first female to complete the Road Safety Marking Association (RSMA) apprenticeship. The apprenticeship has been running for nearly two decades and is a requirement for all new entrants under National Highways Sector Scheme 7. Throughout this time it has been providing road marking operatives across the country the chance to develop their skills, achieve formal qualifications and progress their career. This training remains vital to a sector that was a forerunner in Highways and Construction Specialist Apprenticeship Schemes, though sadly, the road marking apprenticeship is now classed as a Special Applied-Skills Programme (SAP) scheme under the misguided and incoherent introduction of the government ‘Trailblazer’ apprenticeships.
Jordelle started with WJ Group a little over 3 years ago, after a number of years working in an office-based administrative role, outside the highways industry. Searching for a change she decided to take a highways construction course at her local college, where, in her own words, she took a “surprisingly firm interest in road marking”. Upon completing the course and having discovered a potentially new career direction, Jordelle began her search for opportunities in road marking resulting in an application to WJ South.
She was interviewed at WJ’s Croydon depot by Dave Clarke, WJ’s Operations Manager for London, who commented. “Jordelle came across strongly at the interview and I instantly decided to offer her the job, and that good first impression has been backed up with a strong performance since day one”
Jordelle started working in a three-person road marking crew, learning the basics of the job. After only a short time her colleagues and line manager recognised her potential and enrolled her on the sector apprenticeship scheme at the earliest opportunity. Sector apprenticeship programmes offer real benefit and ‘Road Marking’ is one of the few highway maintenance sectors where operatives are trained to NVQ 2 level. Jordelle sailed through the course and qualified with ease. Compared to her old job, Jordelle says “It beats working in an office for me hands down. The variety in the work and work locations is great; one day I’m looking to become a chargehand with my own vehicle and crew.” Discussing her apprenticeship Jordelle continued “I’m also really proud to be the first woman to complete the RSMA apprenticeship and show that this industry is not just for men- it really is open to everyone. I’ve been involved in a number of different capacities at WJ but it’s the white lining element I really love. When I first told friends what I was doing for a living, they didn’t even realise what white lining was!”
WJ is hoping that as news spreads of Jordelle’s success story, other females will see the potential opportunities, take inspiration, and enter into a career within the highways maintenance sector. Andrew Fawcett, WJ South Operations Manager, commented “Jordelle has been great for us, she’s hard-working, and I feel privileged to be her manager. It is ridiculous that there is this perception of highways being a solely male preserve, we are actively breaking down this misconception by promoting Fairness, Inclusion and Respect in Construction. The road marking sector and wider construction industry does offer great opportunity for all and companies that don’t embrace Inclusion are themselves limited and limiting their opportunities for future success.”
WJ like many companies evolved very successfully recruiting people by using word of mouth, friends and family and this has no doubt helped develop a culture based around values of safety, delivery, collaboration and innovation. However the management at WJ understood that they needed to be more open in their thinking and proactively recruit from a wider background.
As Wayne Johnston WJ Group Managing Director says, “Innovation and collaboration are fundamental to our development. When hiring people, all from a similar background, you encounter the situation that they tend to view a problem in the same way and with the complex questions posed in today’s fast-moving transport world, we need to ensure we analyse a problem from every perspective. Empowered people with diverse backgrounds will foster a generation of more and different ideas.”
However, it is examples like Jordelle’s story that show that the industry is wide open for anyone that has the desire and the right attitude. Whilst this is just a step on the journey, it demonstrates how embracing inclusion, breaking down barriers and exploring new avenues for recruitment can be rewarding for both employer and employee. Jordelle is a great example of inclusivity in the highways maintenance industry and the countless opportunities it provides, but more diversity is vital if we are to attract the exceptional workforce that the development and maintenance of our transport infrastructure demand.
One of the keys to unlocking a wider employment pool is looking outside of traditional recruitment methods. WJ have successfully recruited staff by collaborating with these non-traditional sources of talent, for example working with young offenders and organisations such as Construction Youth Trust. They have also set up a very successful relationship with Keele University running internships that have led to a new stream of graduates who are bringing their own skills to drive the continual improvement aspirations of the WJ Group.