With recruitment campaigns beginning to bear fruit, it is up to the industry to hold up its end of the deal and help train the next generation of workers

Do you remember the television advert broadcast earlier this year urging voters to exercise their democratic right at the ballot box? It featured a chap who dismissed politics as not being relevant to his life, only for his pal to point out just how political decisions actually played a role in almost everything he did.

I can see a parallel for construction. For many people, our industry features on the radar only when they are held up by roadworks. Too few people recognise that construction is relevant to everything they do, from the hospitals in which they are born to the homes in which they live, the factories and offices in which they work, the road and rail networks they travel along to the sports stadiums and cinemas where they spend their leisure time and the shops where they spend their money.

But I think that this lack of interest or awareness is at last beginning to change. A new appreciation of architectural merit fuelled by high-profile projects and coinciding with an extended period of growth in our sector, has raised construction in the public consciousness.

The recent Olympic bid success will develop this awareness even further. In reality, the total spend on construction for the London 2012 projects, when considered alongside the total UK construction market over the next seven years, is quite modest. But as a series of relevant, high-profile, attention-grabbing projects, the Olympic programme is priceless. The value in this is widespread, not least for the boost it can provide for recruitment.

CITB-ConstructionSkills estimates that we need to find somewhere in the order of 88,000 recruits each year for the next five years. The good news is that initiatives such as the CITB’s Positive Image campaign are beginning to bear fruit. Likewise, improved health and safety, better site conditions and the added security of consecutive three-year minimum pay deals – including a much needed agreement for apprentices – have all helped to re-establish construction as an attractive career. As a result, applications from school leavers to train in all aspects of the industry are rising and, importantly, so is the quality of the applicants.

It is perhaps ironic that this increase in applications is now presenting a challenge of its own. Having complained for many years that our industry has not been getting the calibre of recruits it needs, it is now down to us, their employers, to ensure that we give them an exciting, interesting and, above all, safe start in the industry, with real work experiences that meet both their needs and expectations.

Thanks to improvements in working conditions, applications from school leavers to train in all aspects of the industry are rising and, importantly, so is the quality of the applicants

Increasingly, applicants unable to find an apprenticeship with an employer have been undertaking full-time courses in further education colleges and gaining an intermediate construction award before seeking employment. This actually puts an even greater onus on employers to make sure they retain these new recruits by providing them with the experience on site they needed to complete their NVQ.

One positive solution is Programme Led Pathways, developed to enable employers who otherwise may not be able to support someone through a whole apprenticeship framework – or need a certain level of skills before taking trainees on site – to be able to offer training opportunities.

The aim is that, by increasing the opportunity for young people to practice their skills on site, it will address the drop-out rate recorded by trainees who are unable to complete their NVQ PLPs have the potential to simplify the process of taking on a trainee. Clearly this not only benefits the individual company but also the industry as a whole. This is why it needs, and merits, the wide support of our industry.

The question of how we achieve effective recruitment and training programmes is one that needs to be addressed by all of our industry’s stakeholders – and not least among these is the government itself. As the UK’s largest single procurer of construction work, it has the buying power to promote best practice through the awarding of its contracts, and in so doing to recognise those employers that are make the greatest effort with their training initiatives.

The 2012 London Olympics therefore will be an excellent opportunity to showcase not only the UK’s athletic prowess and construction expertise but also best practice in procurement, where best value recognises the welfare of our industry’s people – and that includes training.