The Major Contractors Group’s strategy for giving the British construction industry a properly trained and regulated workforce has been achieved. Well, almost ...

New year’s resolutions – we all make them and most of us break them, but there’s one I’m pleased to report that’s holding up well. The Major Contractor’s Group (MCG) ruled last year that from 1 January 2007, everyone working on its sites had to have a skills card.

The MCG’s ambition is to employ a fully qualified workforce, so to see how close we are to that goal, we undertook an audit of all our sites on 1 February. That involved more than 600 locations across the UK and it showed that 86% of the people working there on that day did indeed have an appropriate skills card.

A good result? I think so, but inevitably there will be the knockers who point to the 13.9% who didn’t comply. There are also the critics who attacked the introduction of the basic skills card, saying we lowered our sights to be a carded, rather than a qualified, workforce.

It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and take a swipe at this figure but I believe the whole supply chain should be proud of it. Together we have achieved a seismic shift within the industry and we’re now a lot closer to mission accomplished than the doubters’ mission impossible.

And the pace of that change is picking up. Between October 2006 and February 2007, the take-up of skills cards rose by 6.1%, which is far and away the biggest increase since we began auditing our performance in January 2002. The figure for MCG direct employees holding an appropriate card was almost 89%, and nearly 85% among our subcontractors.

This is a tremendous result for our supply chain partners. Overall they increased compliance by 7.5% and in some trades by well over 10%. That truly reflects their commitment to a common cause.

Due credit for this success should also go to CSCS and CITB–ConstructionSkills, which put two important measures into place to simplify and speed up the whole process of obtaining skills cards – the Skills Direct one-stop service and the new basic skills card, which is aimed at 14 trades and pitched at NVQ level 1.

We’re now a lot closer to mission accomplished than we are to the doubters’ mission impossible

Nor are we resting on our laurels. We certainly intend to tackle the errant few that did not have valid cards on 1 February. In this our clients are increasingly helping us. Most major private sector clients now demand that workers on their projects carry cards and the Olympic Delivery Authority is also insisting on CSCS cards or their equivalent. That’s a big step in the right direction and I hope it will be a spur to other parts of the public sector.

But if we are to make the most of these opportunities, our workforce must be more than card carriers; it must be qualified, too. There needs to be a similar effort and impetus given to vocational training and skills development, encouraging entrants to attain NVQs and motivating employers to offer proper training and apprenticeships.

In this respect, the government is setting a good example with its recently launched skills academies, the first of which is now up and running on the Bovis Lend Lease site at Broadgate Tower in the City of London. These academies are designed to give entrants to the industry a good grounding in their chosen trade and practical advice and instruction on working safely.

Attracting more recruits is vital to our future success, and initiatives like these are needed to persuade young people that construction does offer an attractive, safe and well-paid career. Two “not for profit” organisations that are already doing that to good effect are the Prince’s Trust and Be Onsite. Both are helping to place disadvantaged and long-term unemployed people with sympathetic subcontractors and suppliers who are willing and able to provide the training that will give them a proper start in the industry.

In closing, I must make some mention of the Olympics and the outcry that’s surrounding the budget for the Games. In the grand scheme of government spending, the whole Olympic project – and let’s not forget, it’s also a catalyst for the long overdue regeneration of a blighted quarter of our capital city – is a flea bite.

So, instead of joining in the accusations and the angst, let’s grab this opportunity to make the Games an international showcase for our industry and a lasting legacy to the skills and abilities of a new generation of contract managers and craftsmen – all of them skills card carriers too!