Come on, admit it. You can’t get that passionate about training.
But why is that? Why have we lost sight of the value of apprenticeships? It’s certainly not because we don’t need them. The industry is in its 12th year of growth, and companies are turning down good contracts because they can’t get enough skilled people to fulfil them.
In the past, the great concern was with recruiting school leavers. Now we’re in the cock-eyed situation where young people do indeed want to work in the industry, so they go to college – then find that they can’t complete their qualification because they can’t get site experience. So why isn’t everyone in the industry pushing CITB–ConstructionSkills to come up with a solution? The usual response is: we’re a fragmented industry and we as a company don’t directly employ that many people … Anyway there are enough tradespeople around from eastern Europe. We can just about get by. And by the way, we pay our levy to the CITB, so we’re doing your bit, aren’t we?
The thing is this: if the training situation is ever to improve, it’s going to require an industry-wide system. Every main contractor, subcontractor and small business needs to be engaged now, today, with the training agenda. This week, education minister Ruth Kelly was making that call at Terminal 5. It’s part of a fanfare to launch the skills white paper, and its accompanying sector skills agreements. The sell is this: industry gets more involved and says what it needs; the training agencies, the government and the education establishments work together to deliver it.
Construction is in the limelight because its sector skills agreements are more advanced than those of other industries. The language is bureaucratic and off-putting. But the skills agreements for construction have been drawn up to ensure that we have enough of the right people being trained in the right skills at the right places and the right time. The targets are challenging: for example, to increase the number of apprentices from 3000 a year to 13,000 and to engineer a threefold increase in the number of small contractors investing in training.
As part of the process, there is to be a review of the training provision of further education colleges to ensure that they turn out students with required skills. There are other important developments – for example, the Major Contractors Group and the Major House Builders Group are in talks with the CITB to give all students the chance to work on sites. The government says it’s committed to increasing the number of apprenticeships. And it has also pledged in its response to the Tomlinson report to set up a diploma for 14 to 19 year olds in construction.
So finally there could be an obvious progression from school into apprenticeships.
All of which is encouraging, but there is still much to be thrashed out. How practical should the diploma be? And if it is practical, who would give under 18s the chance to work on site? And, of course, how will the whole thing be funded? As yet, there is no more cash. The industry is making a case for the extra funding, but as with the Olympic bid, it will only get it if it can demonstrate the sector is foursquare behind it. So get training on the agenda at the next board meeting. We could start laying today the right foundations for the workforce of the future. How much better is that than a future without a workforce?
Denise Chevin, editor