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Industry Insight – Spotlight on MVIS

September 2019Helen

Each industry has its own challenges and every business has its own perspective, but within that is commonality and opportunities to develop and learn. With this in mind, we’re developing a series of industry insight interviews with business leaders and company owners. Exploring a range of issues and topics, these interviews will provide insight, discussion of the key aspects driving industry and the personalities behind today’s successful and thriving businesses.

In the second of our series we spoke to Anne Ashman, General Manager at MVIS and Bartco UK to explore what skills challenge manufacturing and the traffic sector is facing and how the company has embraced training, the apprenticeship schemes and people development to their competitive advantage.

Brought to life in 2012 in response to growing international demand for mobile variable message signs (VMS) and intelligent transport system (ITS) solutions, MVIS is now an industry leader in their provision with a reputation for efficient, trustworthy service. Initially, the products and VMS solutions MVIS supplied were manufactured by Bartco Traffic Equipment Pty in Australia but a UK manufacturer was needed and two years later Bartco UK was established. At that time it was the only manufacturer of solar-powered, mobile VMS in the UK.

What do you think has contributed to this success?

Three key things:

1.Commitment to and investment in staff at every level

Our dedicated team form the backbone of our company, each committed to providing outstanding customer service and support for our customers. In a sector like ours that suffers from a significant skills shortage, our ability to attract and retain talent is critical.

2. Customer-led product development and innovation

Our industry, once slow to respond to change and innovation, now benefits from an abundance of equipment and technology designed to make the road network more safe and efficient. From the outset MVIS and Bartco UK have prioritised product research and development, talking to our customers about the problems and challenges they face so we can design the products and solutions they need.

3.Customer service

The high standard of the products and solutions we provide combined with the diligence and responsiveness of our staff means our customers benefit from a first-class service. The high standards of our work have been independently verified by the achievement of ISO accreditations for quality and environmental management and Health & Safety.

How has MVIS and Bartco UK been so successful with staff when you say, your sector struggles with skill shortages?

One way we ensure we employ the staff with the right skills is through our highly successful apprenticeship scheme. Almost everyone who has joined us as an apprentice has stayed with us for the long term and our Assistant Operations Manager started as an apprentice 6 years ago. Our apprentices work hard, are eager to progress and their retention rate has been excellent. Last year one of our apprentices, Tilly Wooliscroft was awarded the Intermediate Apprentice of the Year at the Learning Unlimited apprenticeship awards for going above and beyond and developing her knowledge and skills to a high standard.

Internally ours has always been a collaborative, people-focused culture because it is the interaction between our staff and customers that fuels our innovative approach to temporary traffic management solutions. That’s why we proactively develop all of our staff and have an on-going programme of training and upskilling which is reflected in a motivated team and impressive staff retention levels.

How can your sector meet the skills challenges going forward?

Aside from the impact of Brexit, the most important issue in our sector is recruiting, retention and having the right skills for the future. Looking at our experience I think the pressing priority has to be retaining the talented people we already employ.

More cost and time effective – clearly it costs less to keep a good employee than recruit a new one but perhaps more challenging for SME businesses like ours, is taking on a new employee inevitably involves a period of disruption and distraction for other team members while they settle in.

Counteracts the skills shortage – Retaining talented staff is particularly important in sectors like ours with a significant shortage of specialist skills because of the length of time it can take to replace staff that leave. This can impact on customer service, other employees and ultimately a company’s bottom line.

Inspires confidence – skills are central to a business’s ability to innovate effectively. At MVIS and Bartco UK, we nurture a collaborative, people-focused culture precisely because we believe it fuels innovation. In turn that makes the workplace a more interesting environment where staff are motivated by the opportunity to be involved in new, exciting projects and technologies.

How does MVIS and Bartco UK retain its staff so well?

We focus on:

  • Flexibility – given the time pressures on employees and the benefits of a healthy work-life balance, offering flexible working practices make you a much more attractive employer than one that doesn’t, enabling you to both attract and keep the talent that’s critical to success.
  • Invest in an apprentice – apprentice programmes are a relatively low cost and highly effective way to find and keep the people with the skills you need to grow your business and it has worked incredibly well at MVIS.
  • Transparent recruitment – In our experience, if you’re clear about what a role entails from the outset not only will you attract the right person with the right skills to fill it, you’ll avoid any confusion or bad feeling down the line, thus reducing further recruitment or HR costs.
  • Prioritising staff wellbeing – Demonstrating you care about your employee’s wellbeing ensures they feel valued and inspires their loyalty. There are lots of ways to achieve this from offering an employee benefits programme through to having strong anti-bullying policies and providing a healthy physical working environment. Creating a culture where employees know they’ll be listened to and supported will help resolve issues before they become problems and reduce the incidence of sickness and absenteeism.
  • Improve industry awareness – Each sector faces unique personnel-related challenges that shouldn’t be ignored. Our sector, for example, is predominantly male and involves a significant amount of site or manual work. Its demographic is similar to the construction industry where mental health is a growing concern. A recent article in the Financial Times revealed that just 14 per cent of men disclose problems to their line manager or human resources department. ¹  In addition, the highways and construction sector we operate in has one of the highest suicide rates of all sectors with more than more than 1,400 construction workers taking their own lives between 2011 and 2015. 2  With this in mind I recently went on a training course to improve awareness around mental health issues so that we as a company can support any employee suffering from mental illness in the future. I now make mental health wellbeing part of our in-house training awareness is key.
  • Develop and reward – For industries with significant skills shortages, it makes sense to train and develop existing employees to ensure you have the skills you need. Of course, that also makes your workforce attractive to the competition – so ensure they share in your success and are financially rewarded too.
  • Good communication – we undertake six-monthly reviews with all staff so if there are any issues they get resolved early.
  • Exit interviews – and finally if people do leave, ask them why? These conversations will provide valuable information about what you can do to improve staff retention in the future.

¹ Financial Times

2 Highways Industry

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