In the last of this five part series, CITB-ConstructionSkills explains how major breakthroughs in the drive for vocational and on-site training will benefit employers, government and training providers

Time for change
Time for change

Never before has there been a better opportunity to address the industry’s need for more skilled workers. Two recent developments – sector skills agreements (SSAs) and a government report on education for 14- to 19-year-olds – have pushed vocational training to the top of the industry’s and the government’s agenda.

The government’s Tomlinson report, published on 19 October, proposed that pupils should be offered vocational courses in subjects such as construction from the age of 14, as an alternative to academic study.

Peter Lobban, CITB-ConstructionSkills chief executive, welcomed the findings: “The report undoubtedly represents a real attempt to address the long-standing and unnecessary distinction between vocational and academic programmes of learning.”

However, he warned that extra funding would be needed: “The report also acknowledges that any expansion of work-based learning has resource implications. This is one of the many aspects of these detailed proposals that will need to be worked through over the months ahead.”

As part of a call for more funding, Sir Michael Latham, CITB-ConstructionSkills’ chairman, and Peter Lobban met the secretary of state for education Charles Clarke on 13 October. At the meeting, they made the case for an extra £12m a year for workplace experience on construction courses and another £60m a year for on-site training and assessment. It is understood that Clarke is considering their proposals and supports the work that CITB-ConstructionSkills’ has been doing as a sector skills council.

Peter Lobban believes CITB-ConstructionSkills is well placed to ensure employers’ voices are heard: “We are pleased to see the role of employers and sector skills councils acknowledged in driving reform forward and helping to shape whatever new system emerges.”

At the heart of the sector skills agreements. co-ordinated by CITB-ConstructionSkills, is the idea of collaborative action plans between employers, training providers and government.

How can we attract more people?

If more people are to be attracted to construction jobs, the industry is going to have to change its image. Between 2003 and 2007 the annual average growth rate for the industry is estimated to be 2.1%, which translates to 83,000 new recruits a year.

Already steps have been taken in the form of the “Positive image” campaign, which is now in its sixth year. This August the campaign focused on attracting the best quality recruits and for the first time used TV advertising to reach a young audience.

The aim has been to present a strong and appealing image to millions of young people by specifically targeting in the 14-19 age group. The 30-second TV advert, which challenges industry stereotypes, has been broadcast on a range of channels, reaching 70% of viewers in the target age group.

Work has also been done with schools to challenge sexual stereotyping when pupils make career choices. A network of Curriculum Centres has been established with teams of careers officers and hundreds of young construction ambassadors involved across the country. CITB-ConstructionSkills is lobbying government to provide funding for Education Business Partnerships so that construction curriculum activities can be extended to all schools. In addition, CITB-ConstructionSkills has been working with awarding bodies to develop GCSE courses in construction and the built environment. A pilot qualification will take place from September 2005.

Initiatives like these over the past few years are beginning to generate more interest in the industry. In 2003 a CITB-ConstructionSkills survey showed that the percentage of young people who thought construction offered a varied career increased 7% to 51%; 44% thought it would be enjoyable, a 4% increase; and 39% thought it would be exciting, up 5%. Even more encouraging, 45% said that changes within the industry made it more suitable for women.

Another indicator of success is the huge rise in applications for craft courses at FE colleges. The numbers are so high that not enough employers are taking on apprentices or offering work experience places (see below).

Apprenticeships need a boost

Apprenticeships have had their problems in the past. Employers’ worries about costs have been matched by young people’s frustration at not being able to find work experience for an NVQ. But the Apprenticeship Task Force could change all that.

At the very top of government there is a determination to make apprenticeships work better across the whole of the economy, which explains why chancellor Gordon Brown and secretary of state for education Charles Clarke commissioned the task force to look into increasing the number and diversity of employers offering apprenticeship places.

The findings of the task force will have particular relevance to construction, according to one of its members Roger Robinson, executive director for construction services at Carillion: “The task force is developing the business case for apprentices and identifying the conditions that need to be in place so that apprentices are accepted as part of the scenery on any UK site.”

The task force should enable CITB-ConstructionSkills’ to make an even stronger case for more apprenticeship funding. According to Peter Lobban: “We are working to establish a model for apprenticeships. We are discussing with the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) whether funding could be found to support the model. If this can be achieved, it could result in a 50% increase in the number of apprenticeships.”

Untapped talent: adult recruits

If fewer school leavers are joining the industry, one solution could be to encourage more adults to change career and learn a craft

CITB-ConstructionSkills has reported that the numbers of adults wanting to work in construction has increased, but many never realise their ambitions because there is no obvious way to get trained.

The government has lifted the upper age limit for apprenticeships, but funding still mostly goes to 16- to 19-year-olds despite the fact that older people tend to have greater financial burdens such as childcare and mortgage repayments. For those lucky enough to get taken on as an apprentice, any allowances they receive may well be cancelled out by the loss of other state benefits such as family credit.

This situation hits women and people from ethnic minorities particularly hard, as they are more likely to want to join the industry after the age of 25. In an industry where these groups are seriously under-represented, greater efforts are clearly needed to achieve a diverse workforce.

CITB-ConstructionSkills has been promoting diversity and local employment through pilots such as STEP into Construction and the Sustainable Training for Sustainable Communities in partnership with the Housing Forum. There are proposals to widen these pilots through major government projects such as the Thames Gateway and the ODPM’s Sustainable Communities Plan. Work is also in progress with the Equal Opportunities Commission and Women in Science and Engineering to create opportunities for women in construction.

CITB-ConstructionSkills is also negotiating with the government for extra funding and improved benefits for people wishing to enter the industry later in life, especially women.

How can we do business better?

Business performance is not what it should be in the construction industry – cost overruns and project delays are all too common. Training is an obvious way to improve performance – but only 25% of the industry invests in it. That is why CITB-ConstructionSkills has developed two key targets for 2006 designed to encourage employers to adopt a training culture:

  • 940 construction firms to have Investors in People (IiP) status;
  • 19,200 firms to be claiming a training grant.

To achieve this aim, CITB-ConstructionSkills is giving financial support to more types of training than ever before. Most notably it has introduced a grant for companies that implement an annual training plan and it has offered a grant to those that achieve IiP. Already the number of firms with training plans and IiP accreditation has more than doubled.

To build on this success there are now agreements with IiP UK and the Small Business Service to improve and simply advice and support to construction employers. CITB-ConstructionSkills also plans to work with the Federation of Small Businesses in the future.

Integrating the supply chain is also seen as crucial to improving performance, particularly when it comes to involving subcontractors in training activities. In collaboration with Constructing Excellence, the Learning by Doing workshops have helped small firms address a range of business issues. CITB-ConstructionSkills and some key partners have also developed a management and leadership framework to support career progression and supply appropriate training and development.

A fund of £2m a year has been set up to provide management and supervisory training, and initiatives have been developed with the support of individual federations. One example is the Construction Accredited Partner Scheme (CAPS), launched by the National Federation of Builders. A training programme is also being developed to coincide with the strategic forum’s Integrated Supply Team toolkit.

Sector skills agreements will need to address the issues of how to support small businesses better and how skills can be acquired to cope with new construction methods, as well as helping managers learn “soft” skills useful in partnering arrangements.

What about the workforce we already have?

It’s all very well planning how to qualify the workers we don’t have, but what about 2 million workers who are already in the industry? Fifty-five percent of them are not qualified to an industry standard of a vocational qualification level 2.

On-site training and assessment (OSAT) was developed so that experienced workers could gain a vocational qualification and a skills card without having to give up time at work to go to college. So far 26,300 have achieved vocational qualifications through the scheme. In 2003/04 the LSC gave £10m to expand the scheme across England, which led to 10,000 extra NVQs.

But the industry is committed to the whole workforce being fully qualified by 2010. The chances of success were greatly increased when all the federations in the Qualifying the Workforce Steering Group reaffirmed their commitment. In addition the Major House Builders Group has also pledged its support, which could mean another 200,000 workers will be brought into the scheme. Attention is now being focused on labour agencies to increase take up among the self-employed.

CITB-ConstructionSkills hopes that through sector skills agreements it can gain funding to expand the on-site training to 47 local LSCs in England and their equivalents in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It also needs to tackle the shortage of on-site assessors, possibly by negotiating a flexible assessor network.

Could we improve the quality of our graduates?

Applications for construction-related degree courses dropped by 40% between 1994 and 2003. Although applications have increased 10% this year, much needs to be done to raise the level of interest among potential students and to raise the quality of candidates.

But perhaps the biggest cause for concern is that degree courses do not always meet the industry’s requirements. Employers report that graduates enter the job market without sufficient practical experience or an understanding of the whole construction process. Often they have only been taught information relevant to their discipline, which does not equip them for working in integrated supply chains.

CITB-ConstructionSkills wants an interdisciplinary approach and is working with higher education organisations to ensure degree courses are relevant to the industry. One initiative called Accelerated Business Change in the Built Environment (ACBEE) encourages a partnership between universities, companies and professional institutions. Already some universities are working with institutions such as the RICS and the RIBA to ensure they produce graduates who match members’ needs.

Another option under consideration is to offer incentives to young people to study construction-related degrees as well as securing industry support for undergraduate work experience.

CITB-ConstructionSkills is negotiating match funding with employers to create a £1m pot of money to sponsor students who choose construction courses.

How can we integrate foreign workers?

The increased use of migrant workers has highlighted the need to integrate them properly into the UK industry, particularly when it comes to implementing health and safety procedures. CITB-ConstructionSkills has been working with the DfES and LSC to provide translators for foreign workers taking the health and safety test. The test paper and revision booklet have already been translated into Romanian and Punjabi. It is also talking to labour agencies about providing ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) training and how services could be provided in countries of origin. It is also investigating mutual recognition for vocational qualifications abroad.

ConstructionSkills/SummitSkills conference

On 23 November CITB-ConstructionSkills and SummitSkills are holding a joint conference to find solutions to key training and skills challenges. The aim is for delegates from all sectors in the industry as well as representatives from government departments and agencies to agree action plans. Speakers at the conference are expected to include construction minister Nigel Griffiths, Sir Michael Latham, chairman of CITB-ConstructionSkills, Simon Bartley, SummitSkills chairman, and Ivan Lewis, parliamentary undersecretary for vocational education.