Stories of posh plumbers – city bankers who swap pinstripes for overalls – may be exaggerated, but it is true that an increasing number of people in other professions want to learn construction skills. So how can the industry meet their training needs?

Changing career or retraining is a growing trend in today’s recruitment market and represents a golden opportunity for construction to increase its ranks. Although interest from 16 to 19-year-olds has increased over the past two years, the industry still has to appeal to a more diverse audience if it is to attract the 83,000 individuals it needs each year, for the next 10 years.

But for adult training schemes to be effective they have to cater specifically to the older individual. Women and ethnic minorities (who account for 9% and 2.3% of the construction’s workforce respectively) are far more likely to join the industry after the age of 25, while large numbers of people from all types of background look to change direction in their twenties, or much later. Training schemes that target these under-represented groups in construction are supported by ConstructionSkills.

The government recently lifted the upper age limit for apprentices, but older individuals may need additional support. For example, somebody in their 30s is more likely than a youngster to have a mortgage to pay or children to look after. So ConstructionSkills is in talks with the government to increase the amount of funding available for the older trainee and the level of support they receive.

Crunching the numbers

Adult training in construction is growing:

  • The numbers increased 12% from 2001/02 to 2002/03 when 25,405 adults joined the industry.
  • More than 50% of industry training is for adult recruits and workers
  • Construction workers earn on average £425 a week, according to the 2003 New Earnings Survey. Apprentices in their final year will earn about two-thirds of this figure, but the amount is decided by employers.

Academia and industry meet: Accelerating change in education

Created just one year ago, Accelerating Change in Built Environment Education is a programme that aims to establish links between industry, universities and professional bodies and so better integrate construction education with the needs of today's industry. Funded by ConstructionSkills, ACBEE is part of the Accelerating Change agenda endorsed by the Strategic Forum. A key focus for ACBEE is the issue of performance measurement in education.

Based at the Centre for Education in the Built Environment in Salford University, the programme identifies key industry themes such as the interdisciplinary nature of teamwork. Through scrutinising particular case studies, ACBEE aims to identify the effect that educational courses can have on the performance of the industry. Case studies include the Constructionarium project (see below). ACBEE's workshops and debates have concluded there are several barriers to good industry–education engagement:

  • The Higher Education Funding Council tends to favour academic research rather than hands-on projects;

  • Tutors with industry experience need more recognition;

  • Industry needs to show more interest in the value of university research.

ACBEE, in association with its partners, is looking for ways to address these concerns.


A collaborative initiative involving contractors, housebuilders and consultants is helping to attract attention from prospective undergraduates by creating a £1m pot to sponsor those who choose construction-related degree courses.

Case Study - Constuctionarium: a taste of what's to come

Constructionarium is a project that gets construction firms closely involved in higher education. The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at London's Imperial College, the John Doyle Group, CITB-ConstructionSkills and Arup developed the pilot project to give students the opportunity to hone their skills by working on a "real life" engineering project.

Based at the CITB-ConstructionSkills' National Construction College in Norfolk (see page 11), students visit the Constructionarium for one week. They build a scale construction on a site to enable them to experience the practical challenges involved in order to meet time, cost and quality standards.

Students are organised into three groups. Each is given drawings of a project – for example, a bridge or a dam – which they then build on site in an area set aside for the purpose by the college (see left and above).

The Constructionarium forms the first part of Imperial College’s five-week main design project, which counts for about 16% of the student's third-year marks. They are assessed on areas such as project management and the quality of the finished product.

Other universities are now keen to incorporate the Constructionarium into their built environment courses. Leeds University will use the project in its 2004/05 courses, and four others have expressed interest in taking part.

Case Study - Active adults: constructive cornwall

In November 2002, a public–private partnership launched Constructive Cornwall, a programme to address the shortage of skilled construction workers inthe region. It was especially geared towards career changers or unemployed adults.

More than 200 people have since gone through Constructive Cornwall's programme and have found work in the construction industry. Its success led to the programme being rolled out in North and West Devon and Somerset in September 2003 (see right). In 2004 it was expanded to Gloucestershire and the Bristol area. Together the projects have become the Constructive Series.

The Constructive trainee programmes differ from an apprenticeship because the trainees don't complete a basic skills element of training, which tests their numeracy and literacy skills, as these skills are thought to be sufficiently developed in the applicants.

The trainees spend one day a week at college and four days at work, which over the course of about 18 months leads to an NVQ Level 2, a health and safety test pass and a CSCS card. The Constructive Cornwall partnership pays the college for the training using funds from Devon and Cornwall LSC's Modern Apprenticeships for All programme. This, and the fact that they were not apprentices, means that the employer is able to pay the trainees more.

Regional success stories

  • The Constructive Devon project operating in North and West Devon has attracted more than 50 adult trainees so far. Most are working on a number of building projects in the local area including Urban Splash flats and the regeneration of Plymouth city centre.

  • The Constructive Gloucestershire programme centres on regeneration projects at Gloucester Docks.

  • The Constructive West of England partnership has teamed up with contractors on large refurbishment projects of the harbourside and city-centre areas in Bristol.