Skills shortage: Kier training head floats new ideas for CITB levy

26 January 2015

Schoolgirls on a visit to a Midas Construction site in Plymouth are looking to the future

A member of the Construction Industry Training Board’s (CITB) new 21-strong advisory council has pledged to put the case for a radical rethink of how the board operates and spends its £120m levy income.

Among the ideas Ian Dickerson, head of new entrants and funding at Kier, will propose at the council’s first meeting, due this month, are: using levy funds to incentivise industry employers to take part in a coordinated schools engagement programme; a new one-year postgraduate conversion course to supply a much-needed influx of quantity surveyors; and a new flexible approach to apprenticeships.

Dickerson outlined his ideas in the week the CITB revealed its new advisory council and slimmed-down eight-strong board.

They have replaced the former governance system, whereby an unwieldy 21-strong board was supported by equally well-populated training and grants committees.

Dickerson told Construction Manager: “I see this as a clean sheet for the CITB, and an opportunity to say, ‘This is what the purpose of the CITB is’. There’s £120m-plus in levy income, but what should we do with it? You can pay companies like Kier a significant grant and we’ll make good use of it, or a small company might get a £10,000 grant for an apprentice they wouldn’t otherwise have taken on. But in the coming years we’re facing a number of skills shortages, at trades and graduate level.”

"We have a massive skills shortage coming, so we need to incentivise employers to join a campaign to sell the industry."

Ian Dickerson

The industry supports schools initiatives, but Dickerson said a coordinated campaign to promote construction careers is needed.

“At the UKCG we have Open Doors, which is a great way of enthusing people, and there are other initiatives, but there is no co-ordination. All these [industry] organisations are saying things about the need to attract young people with no co-ordination or clear message.

“But we have a massive skills shortage coming, so we need to incentivise employers to join a campaign to sell the industry. How cost effective is it for me to go to a school or a careers fair, where I might speak to 10 students, some might go into the industry but not necessarily join Kier? But I would feel better if I do it one day, but I knew that BAM is doing the next day, and we’re all trying to sell the industry.”

Dickerson also proposed a two-year apprenticeship where young entrants spend the first year training as general operatives – perhaps based at a further education college – then switch to a specialist trade in the second year to meet local skills gaps.

“We’re told there are fewer than 1,000 steel fixers in the UK, but 900 will be needed at Hinkley [Point C] and the same for the Thames Tideway Tunnel. We need a complete change in the training for apprenticeships, to make sure we’re addressing skills shortages in these areas.”

Finally, Dickerson identified a chronic lack of new quantity surveyors. To counter this he suggested a new intensive one-year conversion course for graduates of other subjects, similar to the one-year law conversion course.

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