New CIC chairman floats plan for cut-price degree to combat skills shortages

15 June 2014

Gardiner & Theobald senior partner Tony Burton, the incoming chairman of the Construction Industry Council, is floating the idea of a new form of construction degree that would slash fees for undergraduates while creating “job ready” recruits for the industry.

Burton, who is a guest lecturer in value management at Leeds Metropolitan University and London Southbank University (LSBU), has told CM that Gardiner & Theobald is discussing the possibility of a new form of full-time quantity surveying degree with LSBU staff.

The idea is that tuition would be shared between LSBU and major employers in the sector, allowing the university to charge a much-reduced fee.

Although the G&T idea is not yet fully formed, the Construction Industry Council is watching with interest and would be prepared to rally the support of employers and professional institutions such as the RICS and CIOB to accredit the new form of degree.

The impetus behind the idea is the fear that some employers could soon experience a critical shortfall in university-trained recruits, Burton told CM in an interview to mark his arrival as CIC chair, taking over from former RIBA president Jack Pringle.

"Why not have a degree that you study while working in industry? We're having discussions with South Bank to see whether it would be viable, deliverable and supported by both academia and industry."

Tony Burton

He said: “The discussion with South Bank is about how do we make our world more attractive to kids leaving school? Many of them don’t like the idea of coming out with an enormous debt burden. So why not have an undergraduate degree that you study while working in industry? We’re having discussions with South Bank to see whether it would be viable, deliverable and supported by both academia and industry.”

“The other attraction for the university is that they wouldn’t be constricted in the number of students they could recruit, and they could increase capacity,” he said.

CIC chief executive Graham Watts added: “If there was an opportunity to do something like this and it was seen as meeting the needs of employers, then Education for the Built Environment [or E4BE, the CIC’s working group on training and education] could be a way to broaden it out to more employers.”

While LSBU and other universities typically offer five-year part-time degrees at reduced fees of around £4,000, these usually appeal to older candidates who have been in the workforce for some time. Burton’s idea, on the other hand, is for a full-time course aimed at school-leavers. “It would be another route post A-level,” he said. 

Burton and Watts referred to a “demand map” compiled by the CBI Construction Council, which predicted a fairly steady 2.5% annual growth in the industry’s output – whereas demand growth in London shows a much steeper curve. “We know that companies in London are turning down work because they don’t have the capacity to do it,” Watts said.

While the LSBU venture and a Construction 2025 campaign to improve the industry’s image could improve the supply of graduates in four to six years, Burton also said that the CIC would be looking at “short term fixes” to meet the immediate demand for staff, such as making it easier to recruit from Australia, Canada or South Africa. 

“We’ll be telling government we’ve got a temporary short-term problem… there is a formal skills shortage register at the Home Office, and a number of construction-related occupations were on it in the last boom. It might mean there could be a relaxation of visa requirements – for instance, you wouldn’t have to prove you’d advertised the role in the UK for six months.”

But in a longer term strategy to boost recruitment, Burton said that the CIC would be giving its backing to the “Class of your own” (COYO) organisation, which has so far recruited around 20 industry institutions and employers – including G&T, CIBSE and RICS – to help implement the Design, Engineer, Construct! curriculum in schools.

G&T is working with a school in Chingford, Essex, where Burton says the course is oversubscribed, with more girls applying than boys. COYO apparently has waiting list of 60 schools keen to join the programme, predominantly in the midlands and north.

“At the moment, as Alison Watson [founder of COYO] says, the industry has all these initiatives, but what is the legacy? With Class of your own, a sponsor can get a course up and running in a school, walk away and start working with another school, and the original course will still be in place.”


Degree enabling is an excellent proposal

peter jones, 13 June 2014

This is not a new idea but the way many of us qualified as Chartered Surveyors or other disciplines. I left school in the early 80's with A levels but decided I did not want to go to university full time, but wanted to work and study at the same time. I became a trainee quantity surveyor with one of the major contractors who paid for me to study part time for my RICS on a day release and night school basis. In my class at college were peers from both contractors and PQS. Although working and studying at the same time is hard work, the benefits are that you can apply what you learn in class to practical situations, plus your employer pays for your tuition.
This system brings young recruits into the industry at 18 rather than in their 20's and firms provide a broad training and experience in the real world of construction, which I for one found invaluable. It enabled me to run projects much earlier than someone that had completed a full time degree and I had no university debt. If firms within the industry were doing this now, the skills shortage could be mitigated without the need to import resources and the risks inherent in that strategy.

Trevor Drury, 13 June 2014

The core problem of this industry kicks in once more as we go back to the 80s, 90s and parts of the 00s when the industry needed people fast to meet demand after paying off thousands during the recession. As a former Wimpey apprentice on their structured training programme in the 80s the system worked well, we just need a more sustainable industry. My training took 8 years onsite and uni combined, so a quick fix will not work long term.
The industry is just trying to survive in the current reality, but we need to work together to change this reality if we are to avoid insanity. Not to mention the education v training elephant in the room.

Rod McLennan, 13 June 2014

I'm really pleased that CIC members are getting behind the DEC! programme - the development of the curriculum, training and qualifications focused on the needs of industry for its young professionals, and indeed involved the direct, prolonged support of experienced individuals from a wide range of industry disciplines. For me, the learning opportunities are hugely beneficial, not only for students and teachers, but also for industry - the learning is delivered by teachers and application by industry. It's a great collaboration, and also enables teachers to keep up to date with the rapid changes in industry processes. Why should universities be any different? I'm sure there are many academics who would really value more opportunities to engage with industry. The model is the same, and I'd be really pleased to see our young students maintaining relationships with industry throughout their university years. Kids studying DEC! are used to industry intervention in the classroom. Why change something that is clearly working so well? I'm all for a new way of thinking post 18...I think it would benefit everyone involved.

Alison Watson, 13 June 2014

Great idea! But, remember the classroom is not the best place to learn about construction. You need the hands on approach that some of 'oldies' learnt by actually getting our 'hands dirty & scarred', working along side trades and seeing how buildings are built?
As a MRICS,CIOB member, (and chairman/founder of Heritage Skills Training Academy), we all need to look at what we are offering to our youth and existing professionals/workforce (CPD etc).
This is nothing new thats being proposed? Just different package! Good Luck?

Mike Lea, 14 June 2014

As one who did the traditional A levels, degree, and post grad, I think this is an excellent idea. When I started work with a firm of consulting civil engineers the engineers who had studied while working seemed to be much more knowledgeable. What did the ICE do but make it graduate only entry something many organisations followed. Today some universities only teach 20 hours per week so what better than to combine theory and practice. This is the correct way to teach a practical subject such as construction.

Robert Grant , 14 June 2014

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