The construction industry can be a tough business to crack, from cash flow problems, struggling to find skilled labor and not making enough money for your efforts, leaves many business owners feeling frustrated and burnt out. But when you get the business strategy right, it’s an industry that can be highly satisfying and financially rewarding. I’m here to give you the resources to be able to create a construction business that gives you more time, more freedom, and more money. This is the ‘Develop Your Construction Business’ podcast, and I’m your host, Greg Wilkes.
Welcome everyone to the construction podcast again. Great to have everyone here, for the regular listeners, we’ve got something a little bit different today. We’re going to have an interview, and I’m pleased to welcome Steven Kersake. Great to have you here, Steven.
Steven Kerslake (00:50):
Hello. Thank you for having me.
Brilliant. We are going to dive into what Steven does in a second. To introduce him: Steven is the founder and chair of ‘Construction Sports’, a charity that helps construction people with their mental health and wellbeing. Steven’s going to jump in and tell us all about that. He’s got some exciting things that are happening with that charity.
First of all, Steven, if I could just get a little bit of a background of you. I know you’re in construction and involved in a lot of things. Tell us a bit about your background in construction.
Steven Kerslake (01:23):
I was pretty much a grounds worker, but I don’t think we were even a trade are we, just the guys who don’t have any other option (jumping on a shovel, dig some holes!) Groundworks is always my background. I started off in the industry doing glazing. I played football with a team when I was 16 years old, and then didn’t come out of school with much and was given an option to go and do some glazing on some big commercial jobs around the UK. I took that, I was 16-18 and for a couple of years then I went around from London to Southampton to Cardiff to Sunderland, literally all around the uk. Transient working, living the dream really for a 16-18 year old. It was great. You just go and do a day’s work, get a sub up front at the end of the shift and then go enjoy the evening every week (when you could go out in the evening and enjoy work in the morning, those days are gone!) That was good, that’s how I started. The recession hit in 2008, 2009 ish. That particular work dried up a little bit. As I was part of a rugby club, I was quite lucky to just go into the club and say, “who’s got a start on Monday?” I didn’t mind what I’d done as long as I could earn some money. I was a sparky’s help for a little while, dry liner, ceiling fixing was a big part of that, different things. As they say, jack of all trades, master of none.
Steven Kerslake (03:16):
I actually left the industry for a little bit, I went skiing for four months and worked out in Austria. For two years I done that, worked with season skiing, which was brilliant. Once that was done, I came back to the UK after the second season. I then went into car sales, a friend of mine asked me go into that, but that was a short lived career, apparently I was too honest! <Laugh>. If people didn’t need to buy a new car, I’d let them know “Your part exchange is fine, don’t worry about it” but that wasn’t the right way to do it. The Sales Manager there said, “This probably isn’t your job, is it?” and I agreed; “No, not really, but could I try commercial sales with the vans etc? I’ve got a bit of a understanding of that”. So I went to go into commercial sales but then at the same time a friend of mine had a big construction company and said “Steve, we need some ground workers. I know you are cut out for it, do you fancy it?” Thereafter back into the industry. I was back on driving machines, groundworking and a bit of everything really. It was great, it was really good. That was the other side of London, we were working around Farnborough, Costa Coffee Farnborough, for any of your listeners who may be drinking there. That’s what we built. I fell in love with the industry again. The mental health side, that came along too (I’m sure we’ll touch on that). From there, I needed more hours and more work to do. I wanted to make up some lost time that had happened. I realised I work on the railway side of things. I wanted to make up for lost time, weekends and nights. I started working the railway. A job came up, they wanted a Civil Supervisor with rail experience. I said “Yes, no problem.” I walked on site and they said, “Have you got any rail experience?” I said, “No, but I will have in a minute!” I was there for a year, it was a big job for Volker Fitzpatrick. It was a brilliant job. From there, I was number 12 or 13 on the induction list of Cross Rail Anglia in the east side of things when Cross Rail really started to pick up. I live out that way so it was a great job to be on. I spent five years there as kind of a foreman / supervisor to foreman / general foreman role. It went from there. After, I went onto a big job, Thames water job for AMK – Akon Murphys Kia. I worked for them as a section foreman overseeing a big sewage treatment plant in North London. That was brilliant (despite the smell!) From there, carried on with that. I’ve been down to DP World, London Gateway, where all the big shipping containers come in. We still do work down there to this day. We’ve gone from patios and driveways to now the biggest stuff in the country, that’s what I love.
That’s brilliant. You’ve got a vast array of experience throughout construction, different trades, you’ve tried different things. Am I right in saying you’re now actually a business owner? You’ve got some people working for you in the groundwork industry?
Steven Kerslake (05:49):
Yes. Currently we do a lot of block paving repair works and concrete structure repairs, down at the ports where we work there’s damage from heavy machinery and heavy containers, so we repair works down there. I’ve got two to three guys on nights in London, and then five or six guys at the weekends. We have to work around the busy times. Monday to Friday with the ‘Construction Sports’ side is quite useful to focus on. Now also apart from that, we’re working down at a yard in Birmingham, in Cannock, which we’re doing the same works on. Across the country, going from east to west a lot of the time, but across the Watford gap every now and then (the sneezes start!) but they’re all right. <laugh>.
Brilliant. That’s great. The reason I wanted to get you on, Steven, because the people that listen to my podcast generally are construction business owners. They’ve been like yourself, they might have been on the tools for a bit and tried a few different trades potentially, but generally speaking, they’re owners that are hungry to grow their business. But there’s challenges that come along with that, isn’t there. As you’re trying to grow business as a construction business owner, it’s stressful. It’s great to hear your story from someone that’s come off the tools that is now a business owner, but it’s not all rosy being a business owner, is it? There’s certain challenges that you faced.
What challenges have you faced during your time in Construction?
Steven Kerslake (07:14):
When coming off the tools, when the first started, I used to always think it’s the workforce not being respected here. It’s all just directed at them. I even see that now, in terms of from the very top , that businesses have got to do more, they’ve got to do more. I see it now, we haven’t got time. The budgets and programs and pressures are just so tight all the time. The pressure on as a business owner, it is so hard and cash flow; just when you think another job’s come in, you’re doing well here, then suddenly cash flows issues. That mix between cash flow and then get paid on time…The lads don’t go unpaid every week. They get paid no matter what. That is the tough thing, weighing things up, I’ve found. I used to think “oh, you five or six guys working for you” and you’d be doing fine on priced work. But once push comes to shove, it’s a whole new ball game. I see it now. I say my pressure problem with mental health construction, isn’t in the workforce and it’s not with the company owners, its that we’re pushed from the very, very top to get as much done as quick as we can. If there is a window of opportunity to have rest day, they just bring the program forward <laugh>, and there’s no chance! I always say this in the sport context, there is no pre-season with construction, especially different sides of it. Nights, days, weekends, christmas; construction is always, always moving no matter what.
You’re right. It’s interesting that you said pressure can sometimes come from above if you are a subcontractor to maybe a main contractor or someone else. There is someone bigger up there. I think some of the people listening to this will be working for homeowners. They might not all be working for on the commercial side, but they’re getting pressure from that side of things to get the jobs finished. It is constant pressure, isn’t it? I think the frustrating thing is that the lads sometimes that you’ve got working for you, they think it’s rosy, don’t they? They think that you’re earning a fortune and life’s easy and they don’t quite realise what’s going on in the background of those cash issues and whatever else.
Steven Kerslake (09:13):
Yes, that’s exactly it. The house building side is probably one of the main things I’ve actually not done lots on, but I understand it to a certain degree. We just bought new property, a new house. We’ve just moved and we’re currently living with the in-laws at the moment. We’re renovating the house and we’ve put in our own own programs together at home, trying to do things. Fortunately I called in some favours from friends and everybody’s there (working). But the plumber telephoned me on Wednesday and said “I really apologise but we’re going to run into Monday.” It was due to the boiler that hadn’t been delivered. I said, “that’s absolutely fine, don’t worry about it. If it’s Monday, it’s Monday.” I could feel he was probably nervous about making that phone call. I said, “I’ve kind of got penciled in middle to late part of October that we’ll be in. But there’s no stress, just crack on.” As long as we’re doing as much as we can, thats all we can do, isn’t it really? Obviously we don’t see that in the big wide world. It’s just every second, you can squeeze and squeeze and squeeze.
Exactly. Well that’s interesting and, sometimes somethings do go pop, don’t they? It really catches up with us. What sort of challenge did you face with that sort of pressure, Steven? How did that affect you?
Steven Kerslake (10:26):
This is an interesting one I heard last week at a Scaffold conference, I work with them for ‘Construction Sport’. A law firm was talking there and they said (I haven’t seen it myself, but I’m sure your listeners would understand); Contractually, companies can’t even show if they’re struggling with cash flow and things like that, to a point of, there’s clauses in there that if the main contractor has doubt that you have cash flow issues, they can terminate a contract there and then. You could be, god knows how far into a project, and suddenly they pull that. But I’ve gone back to my clients in the past and said to them, “Just so you understand I’m a working man with a family and I also employ four or five other guys who have a life and kids. Your delayed payments does make a difference to whether food goes on tables or not.” I’ve done that, I’ve showed my hands and was honest about it and they fair enough came back and said they’ll help and get payment terms tied it up a bit sooner. At the same time, if I would’ve done that to a client I didn’t know, they could have terminated anything and everything then. That was an eye opener for me hearing that last week. This just shows how cutthroat this place is, we can’t even talk about if we’re struggling contractually or financially to clients and we have to hide all this and it is so wrong. These people know that their supply chain are generally the best people out there to do the job, but they just don’t support them when it comes to being financially supported.
Yes, and we can see why this is exasperating the mental health issues in the industry, can’t we amongst business owners and workers because it just feeds down the chain, doesn’t it? The more and more pressure that comes on. I know that Steven, you’ve got involved in a really good charity, ‘Construction Sports’. Where did that all start from? What made you start that up and think about that?
Steven Kerslake (12:21):
It all stemmed going back to the root of it all. I was unfortunately caught up in an incident where I’d got sulphuric acid thrown on me in 2008/2009 ish. I always forget what the year was. It was obviously a traumatic event what happened, unfortunately. Physically, I healed up quite well and it was from a distance. It happened just around the same time that Katy Piper instance happened. It was seemed to become the fashionable way of people being assaulted. I was very much caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wasn’t with a troublesome crowd or involved with anyone. I’d had come back from a rugby tournament on my own and was walking with some guys that I knew from school, and they attacked a couple of innocent people and I stuck up for the innocent people. Unfortunately, got a of bottle of acid (thrown at me). That led a number of issues. Physically I’d done very well. Three or four months with the right treatment, I was back in the game. I had a few blemishes across the face that you can’t really see on Zoom. We had it to the position where four or five months later, I then noticed that my sleep, was starting to struggle a little bit. I’d have flashbacks to certain things, but not of that night (of the attack). It was always different. People always say that there could be certain things you’d go back to that evening, but I never did. It’d be little things like blokes WhatsApp messages and things that you see online when people would post everything. You just think, “I didn’t wany to watch that and now I’m waking up at night seeing it in my head.” I went and got seen. I went to the doctor’s, the GP referred me to the counselor. I got diagnosed with PTSD. I think I was 20, 21 at the time and I kind of just shrugged it off and said, “I’m not military so I don’t warrant PTSD.” And just ignored it. I ignored it for a couple of years and it came back and haunted me. Physically I suffered with what was diagnosed as Ulcerative Colitis in the stomach. It’s a part of the irritable bowel syndrome IBS. It’s linked to Crohn’s disease. It’s the other end of Crohn’s disease as such. I went into hospital to get that checked after ignoring it for quite a while, to turn out that it was too late. I had to go through two years of treatment surgery; opening, remove my stomach, rebuilt my stomach, attached me to a bag for a couple of years, etc. I had all this anger inside. It was because of that lost time that led me to the railway. I thought I missed 18 months work here and needed to make up for lost time. The railway welcomed me in.
Steven Kerslake (14:57):
I had such a lot of anger towards life, thinking I was the only one in the world that was struggling with this or had struggles. Then I was finding out about people (since going back into construction) we’d hear stories about someone’s just taken their own life because of some financial issue or something or other. Little things that could be nipped in the bud. I just thought, that doesn’t sound that bad. I thought I was living it hard. That guy just took his own life for that, for a petty reason, really. He could have done something about that. From this thinking, I started talking to all the guys I looked after and fortunately I had been on quite a lot of big projects and big sites, I was talking to hundreds and hundreds of men, thousands probably over the years. These stories were in everybody. There was something there in everyone and the pressure was on everybody. The statistics started coming out and one in four was suffering with this and that. The “two a day” started, I heard that “two a day” five, six years ago. We’re still saying “two a day” now, which is mad because we’ve had covid and now we’re in a huge crisis. I can guarantee that two a day is scarily higher.
To clarify for everyone what that is, that’s two a day that are committing suicide.
Steven Kerslake (15:54):
Yes. Two a day suicides within the industry, they’re saying. That’s been quite a few years of saying that statistic. What we hear now, is it is worse, but it’s not echoed. I started realising all these people are having these problems and one in four people are having mental health issues of some description, to me that figure didn’t seem accurate. I thought “something needs to be done here”.
Steven Kerslake (16:20):
I was working on Cross Rail and then we had two charity days, it was Macmillan they were raising money for. A lot of us had personal reasons why we wanted to help Macmilllan. I said “nobody’s ever walked (Walk for Life) in behalf of Cross Rail before and we were on it, so should we do it?” Everybody said, “it’s a stupid idea” but that just made me say “that’s exactly why we’re going to do it! Let’s go for it.” I convinced five or six colleagues to come along with me and we walked from Reading into Shenfield. I treated it like a golf day. I’d been on a couple of golf days and realised people get all the holes sponsored. I said it to people that, “do you want to sponsor a station along the route?” The supply chain at Cross Rail was brilliant because they wanted to be seen in the Cross Rail lights so they all chipped in. Within a couple of weeks we had 15,000 pounds together and handed the whole of it to MacMillan. We had some expenses there, that we got other companies to cover, and it worked brilliantly. I then realised on that walk, that there were a few of us on that walk who were having real dark times away from work, and also within our personal lives and family lives. From that day I thought, “why has it taken three days of walking to find out something from a good friend of mine, that I didn’t know had issues, but I’ve been working with him for five or six years?” His story was, he was a P-Way engineer, so on the railway he was the hands on foreman as well. He was a big powerful man. He said, “Steve, you’ve given me an opportunity just to drop the tools and let weight off my shoulders”. He went home to his young son who wasn’t too well at the time, and he has to be this macho man. When he’s at work in this big environment, he’s the macho man. He said there’s nowhere where he can not be that macho character. That free day, had broken him down either way and made him feel a hell of a lot better. From that day he and a couple of the other stories inspired me to do something about it. I’d go on site, people would come on site and brief me about certain things and I disagreed with it massively. I understood that until you’ve been there, until you’ve experienced what it is to be in the industry or work in any different side of it, nobody knows. Nobody knows how your mental health can be dealt with (if outside of construction). I was kind of angry because these people were from outside of the industry. I’m contacted all the time by outside organisations who want to start businesses, trying to just come in and take the cash out of it. It’s so, so wrong.
They’re coming in to advise on mental health, are they? From the top, but they haven’t got experience?
Steven Kerslake (18:57):
There’s a level that I’m really for. I think we need to bring in mental health support to the industry and open up to the real professionals who know it. At the moment we are trying to educate construction workers to become mental health professionals and we’re not. We’re very much construction workers and as we know, none of us have got time for that. There are courses saying that we are doing it, but ultimately giving people these different roles is what I don’t agree with because we haven’t got time for it and the professionals are not being used. I see it with workforce. These people (construction workers) don’t know these people who come in (mental health advisers from the top). More needs to be done. I said if we can just create opportunities for people to go on big walks or play sport, or do something in a sport environment, it all looks after itself. A lot of us do. They say, I think the ages between 30 and 45, or 30 to 49, those are the danger years. I was trying to work out why that is and there’s all different reasons. One of my main things from my own perspective is, in your late teens/twenties you go out, you party, you enjoy yourself, you go and play sport every weekend or do whatever you can to just live the dream I suppose. But when late twenties/ early thirties come, the family life starts. You meet a lady and then your time away from your mates pulls away a little bit. You go under the thumb and you get all the stick for it (talking from personal experiences! <Laugh>) Then the kids come along and suddenly for me, very much weekends are all about the kids and the family. Suddenly that time with all your mates and that real laugh and taking the weight off your shoulders slowly fade away. I think that’s why a lot of these groups you see pop up now. I saw one the other day, over a hundred kilo football; big guys who want to play football.
Yes I saw that.
Steven Kerslake (20:39):
Talking clubs, five aside football, walking, all these different things. They work. The guys aren’t there because they want to compete. They want to go and have a laugh. That naturally comes with, “I’m having a bit of pressure here” and then the guy next you says, “I’m having a bit of pressure too “,and your pressure’s just been halved because you know you’re not the only one there struggling. That’s what we are doing now with the sporting opportunities. We played rugby at Saracens rugby ground yesterday. We hired that out for our first official ;Construction Sports’ rugby team, we played against Essex Fire Brigade. It was brilliant. We touch on it a little bit and say to everyone, “keep your head up” “your not in your own boat”. You can tell when the man shakes your hand and says “Thank you for a great day.” You can see it in the eyes, that it meant more to them than just a bit of rugby yesterday. Creating sporting opportunities to better the industry is basically what we want to do.
Yes. You touched on this earlier, what were the statistics about 30 to 40, what did you say it was?
Steven Kerslake (21:46):
I stay away from the stats a little bit, but know it’s between (I think) early thirties to mid forties I think (the danger zone).
That makes complete sense, doesn’t it with exactly what you said, the family pressures. I guess what is happening with what you are doing is that some people just don’t have that release if they’re not going to see their mates in the pub or it’s all about family time and they just haven’t got time for anything else and it’s all about work, work, work and pressure. Where do they get that release from? What you’re doing in this industry, you’re not having a whole day talking about mental health but you’re giving them that release are you, to be around other people?
Steven Kerslake (22:26):
Exactly that. Creating an environment for a positive release. When we were on Cross Rail, I remember we had a big, eight to ten week blockade, we were all taking 72 hour weeks as that’s the max we could do and making hay while the sun shined. At the end of it they said “look lads, we’re gonna take you out for a drink and say thank you to you all.” It was brilliant, we were thankful to them for doing it, but they should have said play football first or something. Everyone went in there with eight, nine weeks of aggression in their body. The pub was pretty much turned over in about an hour and a half <laugh> but you could see it, there was literally boys everywhere. Everyone went home then into problems at home because they got home drunk and they then had all these problems with their wives and families for the weekend and it ruined their family weekends. It showed that going out and hitting the bottle hard is not the way. Go and do something. We had a game of rugby yesterday and then we were in the club house, had a couple of beers and then that was it. You get that emotion out your body in a positive light and then you can enjoy having a drink and enjoy your family time, that’s the main thing.
That’s really fantastic. You did touch on this already, but I want to make sure we get this out there because I think this is so important. We touched on industry statistics, you said (if I just repeat it back to you) did you say that it’s about one in four that are struggling with mental health? Is that right?
Steven Kerslake (23:44):
It was one in four. To be honest, there’s so many different outlets across the industry, which are shouting stats out. One in four was the original one. I remember seeing “one in four suffer with mental health issues.” They were going in a way to educate only that “one in four”, to make sure that one ‘does this’. But four out of four of us are going to witness some kind of trauma in our lives or do something. Unfortunately, we’re in a world where we aren’t all going to live forever. We’re going to lose people, we’re going to lose pets and it is little things. We’re going to get caught up with financial issues here and there. We’re going have struggles. It is all of us. We can’t focus on just educating one in four or supporting one in four. We need to all be educated and know that sooner or later if it hasn’t already, something’s going to slap us in the face and we need to be be ready for it, and understand.
Yes, I think that’s a really valuable point. Those that are listening to this, who might be construction business owners, 1 – they might be suffering as it is. It’s good to know that you’re not the only one. There’s a lot out there that are going through similar things. But also to keep an eye, if we just think of those statistics, if it is one in four or more than that, if you’ve got a few guys working for you or girls working for you, there’s people on your workforce that are going to be going through issues and maybe don’t have that support or don’t have anyone to talk to. Business owners need to be aware of this, and think about that, what they’ve potentially got there.
Steven Kerslake (25:12):
Yes. One thing we’ve started to really notice as well, from a company’s perspective, they’re thinking how do they support 20, 30 guys or 10, 15 guys? Look at the gangs that they’re in, those gangs that people are in, those tight knit gangs. The gang of scaffolders or the gang of ground workers or the group of engineers etc. Those tight knit groups that are forming and working with each other every day, are groups that can help each other. We see it firsthand. If you put a mental health first aider in middle management and get them to look after the workforce, people don’t go to them. In HS2 (rail project), we saw it across 3000 people. Its not working. There’s been reports that show that its not. That might be one step of what to do, but it’s not everything. But the guys, and the vans and the gangs of people, they know from the second someone steps in that van in the morning, if there’s something up and they will talk. If you can, as a business I believe, if you can really concentrate and give those groups gain a chance for some opportunities together, to go strengthen that bond and support each other even more. Even to the point, in the British culture, we all love a curry. Go to the curry club and things like that. I’m not saying you have to let them take days and days off work for them to enjoy themselves, but just give them an opportunity. You might even say to five or six of them, “we’ve put some money behind the local curry house for you. Go out and enjoy yourself.” The management doesn’t need to be there, and that’ll go a long, long way. There’s those little perks in a day where we can’t retain labor and we’re struggling for workforce, that those little things might prevent you from losing a few guys.
That’s some really good points there. What do you think, I know this is a really loaded question, but what do you think the big problem is that needs addressing? It’s probably a multitude of things that need doing, but if you could pin point it?
Steven Kerslake (27:02):
Education to the workforce, everybody. One way I look at how it could be done is (this doesn’t count for the guys on the ground who don’t need CSCS cards) but I believe if we use it in the same form as we did with health and safety back when it first came in, with high-vis clothes and PPE, we’ve noticed that the guys on the top of the big infrastructure projects, they implemented health and safety procedures and put restrictions and procedures in place, that is filtered down. I’ll go around the corner now and see the local builder cutting some blocks and he’ll have a pair of goggles and a mask on. Years ago that would never have happened, not everyone’s doing that yet, but it does filter down. If we were to put in place some kind of mental health awareness training, that could be linked, I believe, to the CSCS card with the CITB etc (there’s so many organisations to try and keep an eye on it). When people then at those top jobs advertise for jobs for people to come on their projects, they have to have this little bit of training with them as well. It would show up as they’ve done their health and safety, and additionally they’ve also done that (mental health H&S). If those projects have blanketed their whole project and said we won’t accept people on the side until they’ve done that as well, then you’re going to get a hundred percent of the workforce, as hundred percent of the workforce are doing that CSCS test anyway. So why can’t there be a dedicated section to that (mental health)? That has got to lead on with some further support along the way or procedures that can be supported. Mental health education isn’t really put out there. This mental health first aid procedure is put out there…I done that course and I got a phone call within three weeks from somebody who had been handed my number & said that that was my role and it wasn’t. This person was in a very dangerous position. I was caught between in a rock and a hard place at nine o’clock at night while sitting down with my two month year old boy at the time and my wife. From that day, that’s why I said that this can’t be the way that we’re doing it. I know now for a fact that there’s very senior people, very high up people in the industry who do not agree with it as well. Its a case of we need to realise AS businesses, there’s more than just this course to do. We can really support people and really support the workforce. Sorry I’ve gone on a tangent with it all!
I think, touching on what you said there about if it was mandatory, if it was part of the CSCS scheme or something that everyone done it, I think that’s such a valuable point because, what’s potentially going to happen is, that they’re not going to go and talk to their bosses about this either. If someone’s struggling with something, they’re not going to go to the boss, they’re going to talk to their mate that they’re working alongside. I guess, for some of us, we might not know what to do when someone comes up to us with an issue, or we know that something’s off, but we can’t recognise what the signs are or when there’s danger areas. If everyone’s educated on “if you see this, this is what you should do” or “this is where you should direct them” it’d be a great thing wouldn’t it?
Steven Kerslake (30:00):
Yes, a hundred percent. As soon as someone’s spoken to you let you know (any issues)for that person it is such a weight off their shoulders. A lot of time, that’s probably enough for them to be able to say it out loud. A lot of time that is enough. We don’t go around advising people as workers/counselors or try and fix people’s problems or anything. We literally try and get them to have a kick about somewhere or have a laugh, something that shuts them off a little bit from modern day life. Like with football, even if you played half hour of football, for that half hour, all your problems disappear. Do not fear (to speak). I’ve been to a few award nights across the industry, a few exhibitions and there’s very little even being spoken about it, because people aren’t comfortable talking about it. Nobody’s comfortable talking about a subject they aren’t educated on. If we could just give people a little bit of education, the stigma would probably disappear.
Yes, you are a hundred percent right. That’s brilliant. What you’re doing is brilliant. As you said, you started your first event with that walk for life, and then you’ve started to expand it. As you’ve started to expand your events, what barriers did you face in the industry? Or have you faced any barriers? Or how has it been received generally across the top management?
Steven Kerslake (31:15):
We are getting there six years in the making. A big part of that was covid, when it went down to a certain extent. I remember saying on one project I was on (it was a joint venture) I won’t start calling names but I still speak to him all today so it’s not bad. The manager I work for said “no, I’m not letting you have a couple of days off to go and do that. That’s ridiculous.” So I said, “okay, no worries.” I went right above his head, straight to the director and said, “can I do this?” And he went all for it. He’d done a lot of Iron Man competitions, this director. The director over rode the people who signed my time sheet. I was playing with fire big time but it came off really well. That was it. It was, not to say ‘the old school mentality’ but more why would you let people go and have a kick about when you think it’s just because they want to go and have a laugh. There’s more to that, than them having a laugh. There really is. We’re seeing all the time, we always get “no, we don’t need to engage in anything else”. One thing I am not, and people see this because we’ve only just set up a membership scheme ready in the next couple of weeks, and this venture has been going six years. We’ve had a couple of companies come in and help financially and help push us a little bit. But I’m not a salesmen. I’m not going around selling this to people. I’m saying if you want to be part of it, come on board, brilliant. If not, we’ll catch up with you later, because you’re going come on eventually. We’re not going nowhere. <laugh>. If people aren’t interested, they don’t want it. There’s so many companies out there that are interested in it and want to speak with us that I go, “no worries” (if not interested) I just move on all the time. There are that kind of people. The one that probably drives me most is, people, a lot of the time, see me as just a ground worker or an ex ground worker who’s got this idea. I’m not from a corporate world in the industry, but I’ve sat in these corporate meetings on Cross Rail etc. I’ve been brought into high up meetings, I probably was out my comfort zone with. I’ve sat there and realised everyone else is in the same boat. We’re all there, winging it one way or another <laugh> That’s what I’ve realised. I’ve not come from an educated background, from a university or degrees or business management or anything like that, but one thing I do know, more than most people who haven’t been on the ground, is exactly what these people are going through and the struggles. You need to listen to me cause I’m going to tell you the truth. It’s not what everyone wants to hear all the time and some people don’t want to, but it’s the only thing that’s going to make a difference now because what’s being done at the moment isn’t working.
That’s brilliant. You are seeing some real positive impact, you wouldn’t be doing this if you weren’t seeing the positive impact this is having on people. Have you got a specific story? Not naming any names, but any specific stories that you can relate that where it’s really helped, individuals or groups of people, some of your events?
Steven Kerslake (34:03):
There was that one guy I mentioned with the walk (for life) and given him that downtime. There was another one from someone quite close to me, that hit me more than I thought. We put on a rugby tournament three years ago. I messaged someone and said, “I need your help out next week, are you playing?” He messaged “I’m there” straight away. That was it. I didn’t find that out until about three months ago (I saw him in the gym) He said that day I messaged him, he was about to do something. He was at home ready to finish it. He said that message came through and gave him something looked forward to next week. He said “yes” to it and he came along. He said, “you snapped me out of this of headspace I was in. It was a very dark place.” I did that and he came to rugby. He said, “you gave me purpose to be around for that next week. By the time the rugby came along, I’d had a laugh and I was back in the game”. He is doing really well now. When he hit me with that, that was when it choked me up a little bit. I thought “I didn’t expect that”. He is a big, big lad as well. Little things like that. You hear it over the years. What gets you more, I think, is the look in people’s eyes when they come and say thank you for something. Yesterday we had 45 of us play rugby, 25 from the fire brigade, and 20 from the construction sector. People queued up just to say thank you and shaked my hand. I thought “this is a bit surreal. I done this because I wanted to have laugh today.” I’m just glad it’s helping. It’s the look in a man’s eyes when you know that you’ve helped him. He doesn’t need to talk, not to me doesn’t. That’s what I like.
Yes, that’s amazing Steve. Brilliant. We touched on it earlier that you’re a business owner now and you’ve got a few guys that work under you. Now you know all of this and you’re seeing the impacts that this is having on people, what changes have you potentially made in your company or what are you doing that might be a little bit different that you weren’t doing years ago?
Steven Kerslake (36:02):
Probably paying the guys too much. I’d say that <laugh>.
Yes, that’s it.
Steven Kerslake (36:08):
I looked at this the other day. People were saying me all the time and say, “Steve, we can’t get the labour. Can’t get the labour.” I know it’s not easy for everyone. The five guys that worked for me in the last year haven’t had a day off. They’ve been there all the time. They’re always there. But I look after them. I’ll drop in every week and just buy them dinner. They’ll be there at night and I’ll just take some pizzas down or little things like that that can give you the little edge of respect. I’ve been there and these little things, the guys I’ve got working at Cross Country at the moment in Birmingham, they’re down there staying in stand in digs and they’re away from family. I said, “here’s the meterage we need every week done, if you get done by Thursday, you come home Friday morning.” As simple as that. “Go in Friday morning, show your face, agree what’s going to be in place for Monday and you’ll be paid for Friday as well”. They were so thankful for that. They messaged me yesterday and “we’re done for midday” I said, “no, you’ve got to hang on until Friday morning, please boys. You can’t disappear”. But I’ve been there. We’ve hit that meterage, we’ve hit that target, then people add more, then they’ll add more. That’s when that edge of respect starts to go then. I said to the lads “if you’re hitting this on a Thursday now, I’m going to have to start upping it!” I see the look in their eyes of what they wanted to say to me and I laughed out loud. <Laugh>
You might end up with a few people messaging you for a job after this. You look after those guys well.
Steven Kerslake (37:32):
<laugh>. That’s exactly it. I am still a ground worker at heart. I always will be. I know that if someone showed me that little bit of respect or does show me that bit of respect, I’ll go above and beyond. These lads are doing it now. I had it last weekend. I got the keys to my new place and I’ve opened the doors (and as you know you buy a place and then you find out what’s wrong with it after, don’t you?) BANG! I said to the boys and then they’re around my house. They came straight around mine Saturday evening, Sunday evening we were in there until late. I bought them dinner, we had a good crack at home. I’m so thankful they’ll go out their way for me and they love it. I think as well secretly they love the ‘Construction Sports’ side as well. In a way we talk about it all, but to me it’s two different things. They find it hilarious that I’m still running with it. <laugh>.
That’s brilliant. You’ve really created a nice company culture, haven’t you? One where you all get on and you look after the team that you’ve got.
Steven Kerslake (38:30):
Definitely. I’ve got five, six guys, all East London, Essex based, as rough as it comes. They’re probably involved in the wrong crowds at West Ham games on Saturday afternoons! But they always have my back <laugh> We have a laugh. There’s a lot of banter. You can talk about banter, where its place should be, what is banter etc, but when there’s a lot of respect between people, you know the buttons you can press and you know exactly when people need that bit more. When you get that phone call and say, “Steven, I need a little bit more support, can you help us out?” Then they’ll open up to you because they trust you.
That’s fantastic. Let us know what’s coming up with your charity then Steven. What’s coming up in ‘Construction Sports’, your long-term vision?
Steven Kerslake (39:14):
Our road to Twickenham has begun, so we’re looking at playing at all the rugby stadiums across the country. How we’re going do it, I don’t know! We’re tapping at doors and we had Saracen’s yesterday. We’ve got London Irish booked in for May next year. We are waiting for a call back from Leicester Tigers. Then we’re going to try and get around the UK. With the rugby team side of it, as of yesterday I’ve chosen a few lads that are going to head up the rugby side of it for me because it’s just a little bit too much for me. With that as well, we’ve got a few big trecks that we’re planning on walking e.g HS2 before the end of the year, that’s coming in place. A 140 mile walk between five or six of us over three days. As of now (in line with date of this recording) we’re going out tonight on BBC One. There’s a program called ‘Coping in Construction’. That’s all about what we spoke about, the truths of the industry, what’s going on out there, how the workforce is struggling and where the short of the breakdown of support is. The BBC came to me on New Year’s Eve last year and said we’d be interested and, I said, “sounds like a complete hoax and someone’s obviously winding me up, but let’s go for it!” It turned out it was real. It was supposed to go out a few weeks back but because of her Majesty’s vigil, it got delayed a little bit. I’d done my bit for royalty there and gave away my slot on BBC one <laugh> I need a medal on my chest now! It comes out tonight. That’s had an amazing response already. We had the Evening Standard get in touch on Tuesday because the BBC sent out to all their media outlets and internal ones as well. The Evening Standard has done a piece on it. Another outlet called My London, the BBC Radio Five Live had me on yesterday afternoon. Live on air, that was a bit worrying, I’ve never been live on Air before, that was a bit different! <Laugh>. Then this afternoon I’ve got to head to London to the BBC studios for BBC London News. The program comes out at half past seven tonight. I’ve actually got a message right now saying, “can I go to Manchester first thing in the morning for BBC breakfast?” This is the point (my misses is completely right) I’ve got to London tonight, Manchester tomorrow, and a christening tomorrow afternoon and rightly so, its potentially big, big call for my professional side, but for my family side, I’ve got to make the call. I’m going to say I can’t go to Manchester tomorrow. I’ve got my family and boys, my kids haven’t seen me all week. Even though that’ll go on national TV, sometimes you got to know when to stop <laugh> I’m not good at that, we need certain people so I suppose that’s why I’ve got a wife <laugh>.
You’re a hundred percent right and these opportunities will always be there if you put your priorities right. That’s really fantastic. If someone wants to watch the BBC show, that will be on BBC I player will it?
Steven Kerslake (42:07):
It will be on BBC I Player. It will be on live for BBC1 South/ Southeast. BBC North have slightly different schedule sometimes. After eight o’clock this evening, it’ll be on BBC I Player for everyone to see.
Just tell us the title of it again so that they can search for it.
Steven Kerslake (42:25):
Yes, it’s under a series called ‘Made in England’, but the actual title of this episode is ‘Coping in Construction’. BBC one or BCC IPlayer. Touches on the big treck that we’ve done from Twickenham to the Excel Center overnight at the start of May 2021. Then it goes to a bit of my story, a couple of the scaffold lads and their stories. It touches on a bit of football and a few different things we’ve done plus a few other people from outside of our network as well. But their stories start….It’s the truth. They got to me, put it that way. They sat me in front of the camera and they peeled me right open, shall we say <laugh>? You’ll see that on the episode, I’ll say no more <laugh>.
We’ll make sure we watch that. That sounds brilliant. If someone’s listening to this and they’re thinking, “look, I really want to get involved in one of your events/ be part of this”, how would they do that? What’s the best way? Is it only for construction owners to bring their teams or is it open to individuals? How does it work?
Steven Kerslake (43:32):
Anyone and everyone. We had mothers, daughters, kids, families, everyone there yesterday at the Rugby. Everyone. I want to make it a real family thing, community project, to the whole country. Through our website, info@construction or constructionsport.com. The email is email@example.com. Also through Twitter, LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a big one personally for me. I’ve got a team of guys who help me now with the social media side, so Instagram or TikTok as well now. We realise that’s the next generation that are coming through, to get to them and support them. All the social media outlets we are on. We have a membership program in place now for companies that just want to be associated to a certain degree. We also have a membership platform for people who want a bit more in depth support for companies, and an online presence with supporting their workforce. We’re happy to talk to everyone. I think it’s been a long time coming. This brochure we’ve had in place has fell in line with this today and getting this media storm going, who knows what it’s going to happen. The only thing we said was the main thing, we just want change. A bit of respect for the workforce.
That’s fantastic. To clarify, it’s not just rugby, is it all sports you’re doing? You’ve mentioned a couple, walking, a bit of football….
Steven Kerslake (44:46):
Yes rugby; I’m a little bias towards it! But we’ve done a lot of golf. We tried to ease a little bit off the golf because it can become very much a Director’s party. We do get involved but we normally go to the golf days now rather than host too many. We do want to call out to JCB Golf Club if anyone’s part of that. We’ve got a few contacts that we’re pushing on at the moment. I want to take some real construction workers to the JCB golf course and have a real good day. We’ll find a way of making that possible. Walkings been a big one. A few of the lads are actually planning on marathons now with the buzz after the London Marathon just gone. What else is there?… Golf, rugby, football. Essex Fire Brigade offered yesterday that they want a football match against us, we can look at forming a team. If anyone wants to get involved with any other sports, just let us know. I want to put a team together. When you go onto the military homepages, you can see they represent all different sports. That’s where I want it to be. I want people to want to come and join the industry because they know they can represent the company and industry plan against different industries.
That’s an amazing vision.
Steven Kerslake (45:49):
How we do it, I don’t know, that’s the funny bit <laugh>.
I’m sure with all the media coverage that you’re going to start getting, it’s certainly going to pick up some pace and those connections are out there and listening. Steve, it’s been really valuable having you on the podcast today. I wish you all the best, especially your BBC show that’s going out tonight, but most importantly the best with ‘Construction Sports’ because it’s doing such amazing work in the community and in the construction industry. So thanks for being on Steve.
Steven Kerslake (46:19):
No, massive thank you for the opportunity to share what its all all about. These little things are what put the cogs together and make us move. Every little bit of support we can get, I’m massively thankful for.
Great stuff. All best.
Thank you Greg.
If you’d like to work with me to fast track your construction business growth, then reach out on www.developcoaching.co.uk