How a pilot course in construction and property aims to tackle skills shortages in the industry.
The University of Central England is developing a pilot degree as part of the government's moves to tackle the skills shortage in the construction industry. The vocational course in construction and property, which is called a foundation degree, starts this September and is being developed in conjunction with a number of industry organisations.

What will the students study?
The course has yet to be finalised but it will cover a range of modules, including business and IT. Students should graduate with specialist technical knowledge as well as assessed or accredited skills in areas such as communication, teamworking, problem-solving and IT. The course is also designed to equip graduates with other generic skills that employers seek, such as reasoning and work process management and an informed employment perspective.

How will the degrees attract new recruits into the industry?
The degrees should appeal particularly to those who would not previously have considered further academic study, especially those with vocational A levels. They are likely to be run on a flexible basis, with a part-time or distance learning provision so that students combine work with structured study.

Foundation degrees will also be particularly relevant to technician apprentices taking higher level NVQs who already have an appreciation of the theory underpinning their practical skills. They will also provide another employment route for those returning to work and the unemployed.

Can a foundation degree lead to further qualifications?
Students will be able to gain professional qualifications, higher level NVQs or further academic qualifications. It is envisaged that many foundation degree graduates will wish to continue to study towards an honours degree on a part-time basis.

Foundation degrees should appeal to those who would not have considered further academic study

What part do employers have to play?
It is important that higher education keeps pace with changes in skills and in employers' needs. The Department for Education and Employment has asked employers to take part in the delivery of foundation degrees by, for example, providing work experience placements. Such employer participation enhances the learning experience of the students and ensures that the qualification reflects employers' requirements.

It is also important that employer bodies, such as the Construction Industry Training Board, are actively involved in the design and subsequent review of these programmes.

What are the advantages for the individual?
At the moment, many students enter the labour market without a thorough understanding of employment or its commercial needs. A hallmark of foundation degree courses will be the requirement for students to have applied the skills learned in the classroom in the workplace. For most students, this will be achieved through part-time study, so their academic studies are naturally complemented by their jobs. Many others will be able to demonstrate their skills by reference to previous employment in the same occupational area as their subject of study.

Where an individual has no work experience, or has not had the opportunity to work in the area relevant to the subject of study, the provider will need to secure an appropriate work placement. The National Centre for Work Experience can offer guidance and good practice and the CITB will be able to support this.