As part of its Leading Industry Learning Strategy 2023-25, the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) is supporting employers to prepare for a projected boom* in project activity in a number of ways. Developing management skills will be key.

As well as its industry-leading range of courses and qualifications in project controls and supervisory skills, the ECITB supports employers to develop project management skills through its project management mentoring programme, the Active Cup programme and supporting additional specialist courses.

To showcase how employers are placing a greater emphasis on project performance, the ECITB paid a visit to Inspec Systems in Hull to speak with Design Engineer James Burton. He recently attended an Improving Project Performance course at Cranfield School of Management, with funding for the course fees provided by the ECITB.

Having mainly been focussed on the design and engineering side of operations, the course was a chance to upskill James on project aspects. This will help with his day-to-day role at Inspec, whose electrical contractors deliver automation, control and electrical engineering services to a wide range of industries.

James Burton (left) from Inspec in Hull, who attended a project performance course, with the ECITB's Chris O'Connell

James Burton (left) from Inspec in Hull, who attended a project performance course, with the ECITB’s Chris O’Connell

James, 30, a former installation and commissioning apprentice who has been with the company for three years, says the course was a big eye-opener.

“One of the things they said on the course was engineers make the worst project managers because we think too literally and to the point,” he said.

“As a project manager you don’t want to know why a bolt is fastened a certain way. As an engineer we’re focused on detail as that’s what we’re trained to do, but as a project manager you don’t want detail, you want the big picture of what needs doing and when, which was a good lesson to learn.

“Understanding from the other side why things are done a certain way and learning about project aspects will be really helpful in my role.”

Simulating pressure situations in projects

Similar to the ECITB’s Active Cup Programme, the programme includes a simulation of a project, going through all the steps such as budgeting, timescales and delivery with decisions made by the groups.

Groups need to have an initial plan for their project, but then simulated pressure situations occur where they have just a matter of minutes to react to problems that may arise in a project – just as they may need to do in a project manager position.

As well as the simulation, course attendees learn enhanced project performance and greater self-awareness; control of their role in projects; an improved project planning process; the ability to handle cash flow and understand its importance; confidence to manage themselves and others more effectively; greater awareness of different contract styles; and positive relationship management.

“I took a lot more out of the course than I thought. It was interesting and engaging,” added James.

“I was a bit uncomfortable to start as I’m quite reserved, but it was a good confidence builder to be able to work alongside people from large enterprises with thousands of employees as we’ve got around 20 here.

“It was great to learn about the project management side as I hadn’t done much of that, but one of the big things I learned was about understanding people in terms of interacting, collaborating and different learning styles.

“Every time you go on site, there are other people you’ve got to liaise with, so you have to learn how to interact and that it’s not just about your part of a project.

“I also learnt about critical path management, which identifies the key path through a project, and how you do these things in your day-to-day job but don’t realise there’s a methodology behind it. Having that understanding means you can apply it in your role.”

 Using project performance

Chris O’Connell, ECITB Account Manager for North England and Inspec, attended one of the seven days at Cranfield to gain a greater understanding of the benefits of the course.

“Many companies in the Humber region will be involved in a lot of major upcoming projects, such as around carbon capture and hydrogen production,” he said.

“They will need the specialisms that companies like Inspec can offer, so I’m delighted James could attend the course and found it hugely beneficial.

“This is a good showcase that a company like Inspec, an SME specialist, is using project performance to improve how it communicates with its contractors, clients and sub-contractors.”

* Data from 1,500 active and future engineering construction projects was used to help create the ECITB’s new Labour Forecasting Tool (LFT), which shows the scale of major project work happening around the UK.

Find out more about the Improving Project Performance course