Building reports on the launch of a dedicated construction MBA

The construction skills shortage is a perennial headache for the industry's employers, who between them must find and train 400,000 recruits simply to meet the current workload. With such a bewildering task, however, it seems many may be neglecting their own development. A workforce for high-profile projects such as the Olympics must be found - but when it is, experts have warned, the industry needs to ensure it has enough managers to keep the workers in check.

Training body CITB-ConstructionSkills is aware of the potential disarray such imbalance could cause the industry. Its statistics show that of the 400,000 workers needed in the next two years, 16,000 will be managerial roles. For this reason, it has backed a University of Manchester initiative to ensure senior people do not escape the drive for more schooling: the construction MBA. In January next year, Manchester Business School will begin admitting students onto the UK's first course tailored for construction professionals aiming to move into management.

"The skills shortage we have to tackle is not only among craft trade and technical workers," says Sir Michael Latham, CITB chairman. "The need for skilled managers in the industry is one of the biggest employment challenges we face."

Latham hopes that the MBA can solve that challenge. The five-year programme consists of a series of management and construction-specific modules, covering topics such as managing a firm and procuring assets and services. The course is based largely around flexible distance learning, meaning this ambition needn't be thwarted by the pressures of the construction projects of today.

The CITB and course organisers at Manchester Business School are targeting professionals from across the industry to sign up to the programme: architects, contractors, engineers and surveyors. Professionals with a background within construction clients are also being sought.

"It is the classic distance-learning management qualification, but for those who already have a technical specialism in construction," says Graham Winch, programme director. "Traditionally construction workers have done an MBA as a route out of the industry, but we're hoping to change that. There are a lot of highly qualified engineers, for example, who may not see themselves becoming a brilliant bridge designer. It's these people we want to target."

Despite the determination to keep professionals within the industry, they will receive some teaching alongside students on MBAs from other sectors, as part of a series of short classroom-based units of the programme. Winch claims that rather than tempting the students away from construction, it will equip them to draw on invaluable expertise from other sectors when running their own firms or projects. "We have to get out of the ghetto of construction management education," he says.

Sceptics may argue that a managerial qualification is unnecessary for the industry; another piece of paper with uncertain practical value. Winch, however, is adamant that it is the only way to give the industry the leaders it deserves. "There is currently little proper training out there at this level," he says, "and we can't really look abroad either. However many steel fixers you can get from places like Poland, you can't import everything. Management capability will always need to be in line with the traditions of the British industry."