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