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Staff ownership schemes: will they curb attrition?

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Scottish civil engineering firm guarantees 130 jobs 

In the last year, there has been an increase in businesses adopting employee ownership schemes with one of Scotland’s most successful civil engineering contracting companies choosing now to do so, thereby guaranteeing the future of 130 jobs.  

Tayside-based, Kilmac Limited, is being placed in an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) by its founders Athole McDonald and Richard Kilcullen, 18 years after its inception.  

According to reports, Kilmac has an annual turnover of £20m, with current projects including the transformation of Perth City Hall and the latest development phase of the James Hutton Institute in Dundee. Kilmac acts as the main contractor for local authorities, universities, local health services, road network authorities, council direct labour organisations and private clients, and is the leading groundworks contractor for commercial, social infrastructure and housing projects. 

The process of moving the business into employee ownership has been supported by Kilmac’s accountants Azets, legal advisors Thorntons Solicitors, and employee ownership specialists Ownership Associates 

Owners Athole and Richard, both civil engineers who started the business in 2004 after meeting earlier at Dundee Institute of Technology, plan to remain in place for at least the next three years.  

Athole, founder of Kilmac commented: “We have to look to the future and by creating an EOT, Kilmac will be in the safe hands of our excellent senior management team. It’s good news for Tayside, with the vast majority of our staff living in Dundee, Perthshire and Fife, and it ensures the company will continue to provide stability for our customers and job security for our employees. We have come a long way from the days when our biggest headache was getting the photocopier to work and stop the kitchen worktop being covered in ink. We knew what we wanted to deliver and have remained true to our principles.  

“We could have found a buyer for the business but we have an experienced and talented team who are more than capable of taking on the reins over the next few years. The structure is being created to take the business forward, provide clarity to our staff and customers and to avoid unnecessary disruption.” 

Carole Leslie of Ownership Associates provided employee ownership support for the project and assisted on communication with the new employee owners and other stakeholders. 

Carole said: “The employee ownership business model is an excellent succession option for business owners who want to persevere their legacy while protecting the future of their employees who have helped shape the company. 

“Under the ownership of Athole McDonald and Richard Kilcullen, Kilmac is well-established as one of the most successful and forward-looking civil engineering businesses in Scotland, and by opting for an EOT they have ensured that an enterprise they started over a kitchen table will continue to thrive, and to provide rewarding employment for more than 100 staff.” 

Kilmac joins a number of successful businesses in the area who have opted for an employee ownership trust structure and the move has been warmly welcomed by staff. 

Finance Manager Julie Scobie said: “Kilmac has always felt like a big family and it’s comforting for everyone to know that Athole and Richard have full confidence in their staff to be able to hand the legacy of their company into employee ownership as they navigate their next steps.”  

SF Recruitment, a leading specialist recruiter in the Midlands recently implemented an employee ownership scheme in order to become completely employee-centric.  

Saira Demmer, CEO at SF Group commented: “Last year we made a wholesale switch in our model to become an employee-centric business. This meant a lot of changes to the way we were operating, but we felt that to really make the change stick, we wanted to put our money where our mouth is and share the profits of the business with our employees too. It’s an open and transparent scheme with every single individual in the business having a share, regardless of their job title, seniority or tenure. Since introducing it, we have seen a significant increase in engagement and autonomous behaviour which in turn has improved performance and reduced churn quite significantly.”  


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