Government steps up pressure to train as Constructing Excellence predicts formation of construction university
The government is to disqualify contractors from bidding for work procured by Whitehall if their workers do not hold Construction Skills Certification Scheme cards.

The Office of Government Commerce is about to send a note to all central government clients to inform them that the use of the CSCS cards is to be a condition for winning work.

The note, which has been seen by Building, says that Whitehall departments must support the CSCS or an equivalent scheme. It says: "This should be applied to all new-build and refurbishment construction projects as well as to maintenance and repair."

The note sets out guidance for clients on how to select a contractor and how to monitor it once it begins work; this will include regular audits of firms (see "Checks on contractors", below).

The move comes as Dennis Lenard, chief executive of the government's Egan body, Constructing Excellence, sets out the future strategy for the industry, including plans for a fully qualified workforce by 2010 (see the strategic forum story, below).

Speaking to Building, Lenard predicted that the European construction industry would form its own university by 2014.

He said: "It has happened in Japan and it will happen here. Large multinational companies will become large enough to set up their own university, training mainly postgraduate students."

Lenard added that Australia was beginning to put construction universities in place when he left there a few months ago. He also predicted that the largest European contractors would form their universities.

Constructing Excellence will address the issue of a construction university once it has tackled its first target, which is working with Peter Rogers' strategic forum to change the negative image of British construction.

It has given itself two years to achieve this objective.

Lenard said consultants in the industry, and in particular architects, enjoyed a good image. However, he said major contractors had only a moderate image, and that small contractors had "no image at all".

One of the ways it is intending to improve matters is by revitalising the government's moribund quality mark initiative. This is a vetting and warranty scheme that is intended to give consumers the same confidence in building services as they have in other products. Lenard said he wanted to give the scheme some "industry ownership".

Lenard said: "We aim to take on the negative public relations. Construction has to drive home the benefits of the industry in the regions."

Checks on contractors

The OGC has advised government clients to:
  • Take into account the proportion of workers that contractors say will be registered with the Construction Skills Certification Scheme, or equivalent, on 1 April 2004

  • Undertake regular audits throughout the life of the project to check how many workers are actually registered

  • Ensure that an effective system is in place to guarantee the competence of workers when they first arrive on a site — including CSCS registration

  • Take into account suppliers’ track record of employing skilled workers