‘Rebuilding Lives? The human impact of Social Clauses in construction projects

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Social Clauses are an initiative formed out of the Social Value Act (2012) which seeks to recruit the long-term unemployed through public procurement, to meet recruitment targets and deliver social value. However, there is concern that the construction industry lacks the mechanisms to effectively implement such initiatives. This is due in part to the traditional culture of the construction industry and its failure to appreciate the wellbeing of those in its employment.

Academic studies to date have sought to evaluate the opinions of contractors and clients. However, there are no studies to date which have investigated employee’s experiences under social clauses, in particular, impacts on employee wellbeing. As suicide rates in the construction industry in Northern Ireland are the highest of any occupational group according to NISRA Statistics (NISRA, 2016), wellbeing is critical at a time when the industry is experiencing skills shortages.

Anecdotal studies show that architects are currently uninformed about this area of procurement reform and require the evidence to engage in debate and make informed decisions about the value and viability of social clauses. The changing role of the architect is important in driving procurement and professional education reform. The questions which formed the basis for this study were:

1. What is the extent of social value in construction procurement?
2. What are the experiences and outcomes for persons employed on projects under social clauses and for employers?
3. What can be learnt from these findings to inform the architecture profession?

Following a review of the policy context for social clause provision and an extant literature review, a Wellbeing Framework was developed. Interviews were undertaken with 42 employees and 30 employers across 10 live construction projects. Observations were aligned and discussed, and reflections were presented for discussion. Additional analysis was carried out comparing government supported social clause initiatives with non-mandatory clauses from a range of contracts.

Analysis determined the strengths and weaknesses of the current ‘state of the art’. Social clauses are perceived as a positive opportunity for personal development by employees but as a contractual necessity by employers although there is an increasing acknowledgement of the important role of social clauses for communities.

The study identified that there needs to be greater focus on social clauses as paid employment rather than merely work experience, and the potential for converting fixed term contracts into long-term employment opportunities. Furthermore, the architecture profession should be cognisant of these insights in informing the growing demand for integrated courses and Higher Level apprenticeships for architecture.

Keywords: Social Value, Procurement, Wellbeing, Long-term unemployed, employers, Architecture profession
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUlster University
Commissioning bodyRoyal Institute of British Architects
Number of pages62
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Sept 2020


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