Opinion

Turning Government policy into skills action

14 October 2011

Mark Farrar, CITB-ConstructionSkills

The Conservative Party Conference has delivered some promising news for the UK’s construction industry. However, these opportunities must be seized upon to ensure that the sector has the right skills for future growth nationally and locally,  writes Mark Farrar, Chief Executive of CITB-ConstructionSkills.

Last week, Conservative Ministers confirmed plans to contribute £470m towards the completion of the Mersey Gateway Bridge, as well as announcing the creation of 10,000 new higher apprenticeship places. This is welcome news for a UK construction industry still struggling in a tough economic climate.

However, it is essential that we use these announcements as a spring board to address the sector’s recruitment and skills challenges whilst also laying the foundations for future economic growth.  

With one in six workers in the construction and built environment industry due to retire in the next decade, the industry is facing a retirement timebomb. An ageing workforce will take with it vital skills and knowledge.

In addition, construction businesses in regions like the North West are still facing testing times. For example, according to our Construction Skills Network forecast, the North West is one of the hardest hit by the economic downturn, and is due to contract at an average rate of 0.6% between 2011 and 2015. However these new Government announcements should be seen as beacons of hope for the future.

Major infrastructure projects like the Mersey Gateway Bridge demonstrate that money will still be spent on public sector contracts. With this comes responsibility for local authorities to ensure they are putting skills and training at the heart of their projects – and there is help available to do this.

One example of where we are already offering such guidance is through the Client Based Approach which has been established through our National Skills Academy for Construction. The framework, predominantly aimed at Central and Local Government and their contractors and supply chains, aims to ensure public procurement guidelines are available to help solve the industry’s high recruitment challenge.

The practical guidance helps local authorities to leverage training and employment opportunities through capital works schemes. The aim is to provide a lasting skills-legacy for local communities so that they have the necessary skills in place for long term growth. The activities covered by the benchmarks include work placements, NVQ qualifications, apprenticeships and a variety of training plans for subcontractors.

The Government’s commitment to higher apprenticeships is also good news for the industry and fits in with our own priorities. Indeed, it is one of the key areas where CITB-ConstructionSkills is already adding value to employers, particularly through our delivery of the Management and Contracting Competencies programmes.

Other innovative ways that we are prioritising higher apprenticeships include looking at how they can fit into the Green Deal, and working alongside the Institute of Civil Engineers to deliver the PACE (Partnership for Apprenticeships in Civil Engineering) scheme. Programmes of this nature will help turn the recent Government announcements into positive outcomes for the industry’s skills base.

Government policy and commitments can contribute to future growth, but it is now up to the industry and local authorities to take full advantage of the opportunities presented to them. CITB-ConstructionSkills will be supporting them every step of the way, to ensure that lasting skills legacies are developed. This will ensure the UK construction industry can thrive and be competitive well into the future.  

For further information visit www.cskills.org 

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