Sir Michael Latham CITB–ConstructionSkills is doing more than ever before to provide the construction industry with a highly skilled modern workforce. Here’s how...

In my column on 6 October I looked at what CITB–ConstructionSkills had done with the levy raised from contractors, including my own firm, Willmott Dixon. But that is only part of the story. For the past three years, CITB has been in partnership with the Construction Industry Council (CIC) and CITB (Northern Ireland), which is a separate statutory body, in the Sector Skills Council (SSC) known as ConstructionSkills.

The SSC has a much wider outreach than CITB, involving higher education, professional institutions and the self-employed (both professional practices and genuinely self-employed operatives), although it cannot use levy money to grant aid to professional practices or the self-employed who have no employees. But the SSC can give them services and advice in other ways, and with non-levy finance where appropriate. The involvement of the three partners together has been outstanding, and there have also been very close links with SummitSkills, representing the M&E sector and other built environment SSCs.

The SSC has already had a number of major achievements. They relate to four major challenges, the first of which is qualifying the existing workforce. The most recent innovation is the National Skills Academy for Construction. This has now been approved by the government and officially launched. It will not be a physical building – it will centre on a network of project-based training centres on construction sites around the country. The intention is to have at least 30 such sites established by 2010, creating at least 10,000 jobs through apprenticeships and helping 100,000 experienced workers to gain NVQ levels 2 and 3.

Another strong SSC initiative is our work on heritage skills and training through the National Heritage Training Group, a partnership with English Heritage. In addition, ConstructionSkills has provided match funding with the Prince of Wales’ Foundation for the Built Environment to set up a Heritage Skills Training Academy.

The second challenge is recruiting qualified new entrants to the industry. The Positive Image Campaign launched by ConstructionSkills targets young people by explaining to them the wide range of professional, technical and craft roles available in construction and encouraging them to apply for apprenticeships and scholarships through the careers website It has received a huge response and has won marketing awards for its professionalism. Linked to it has been the ConstructionSkills Inspire Scholarships Scheme, by which young people are helped with matching funds with employers of up to £9,000 over three years to study for construction degrees at universities. This has also been extremely successful, with 84 employers involved and 200 scholars.

The intention is to have at least 30 academies established by 2010, creating at least 10,000 jobs

Improving business performance is the third challenge. ConstructionSkills’ special contribution has been the “Build to Last” programme, which is about the vital issue of sustainability. It has published independent research this year about helping the industry to make a proper contribution to sustainable development by looking at the supply chain, the business case and the most important 10 actions that contractors, clients and designers can do to be more sustainable.

The fourth challenge is to develop infrastructure to support the SSC/industry priorities. There have been several major initiatives by ConstructionSkills. The new ConstructionSkills Network, a cross-industry alliance, provides top class statistical information to inform policy, and the Office of Government Commerce is using its outputs as the basis of their skills planning. The Construction Qualification Strategy Review has involved hundreds of employers through direct contact and 25 employer-focused workshops.

There are also two major ConstructionSkills educational innovations. The GCSE in Construction and the Built Environment is being piloted in 58 centres and involves 1,500 students. Permission has been granted this year to expand the pilot to 100 centres after the pilot is completed. Also, the new diploma for 14-19 year olds will be introduced by 2008, and detailed work is proceeding satisfactorily on its content now. A key milestone was reached this year when the Diploma content and guidance document was approved by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

So, there is a lot of activity, and all of it progressive, intended to make construction a career of choice for capable young people. Their response has been most encouraging.