Training crisis is everyone’s problem
Denise Chevin challenges the industry’s complacency on training and apprenticeships.
It’s easy to see why the issue of training gets neglected. I have to confess over the years working as an editor and writer in the built environment, I’ve not always considered it front page news. And I’ve certainly not been alone in that. It’s dry, it’s complicated and what’s the big deal? Doesn’t construction always find enough workers somehow to get the job done?
How short-sighted those views now seem. As a trustee of the Construction Youth Trust and the author of a parliamentarians’ report No More Lost Generations – Creating Construction Jobs for Young People, published this week, it’s become alarmingly apparent how much attitudes need to change if we’re to create a sustainable and competitive industry.
And what a crisis the industry is heading for. The numbers of apprentices coming through the system have plummeted and the number of people completing qualifications in the next year is likely to go down before it goes up. Former construction minister Nick Raynsford, and joint chair of the Parliamentarians’ inquiry, was spot on when he described them as “pathetically dismal”. Yet every developer or contractor or consultant in London is complaining about shortages of skilled tradespeople, or concerned about who is going to engineer new stations or manage their construction programmes.
Training and the employment of young people should not be just a matter for the members of staff who know their way around the grant system and government funding maze. There are 182,000 jobs to be filled in the next four years and over 900,000 16-24-year-olds in need of one. It shouldn’t beyond UK Construction PLC to marry the two.
As the report makes clear, there no single solution – it’s a problem that has to be attacked from all sides and it makes a number of pragmatic and largely workable recommendations for doing so. We have to improve an understanding in schools of the hugely exciting and varied opportunities available for those who want to make a career in construction from all academic abilities, for example. We need to ensure that training programmes are better linked to the nature of the jobs that are likely to be available. We have to use the levers available through public-sector procurement and the planning system to require of employers both realistic and effective training and employment commitments.
We need to make it worthwhile for young people to take up a construction apprenticeship, both to help attract the best people and keep them there. Construction on the whole pays 30% more than the £2.68 minimum apprenticeship wage. But how can any young person pay for travel, living expenses and their tools out of that?
We were told during the course of the inquiry that the CITB needs to sharpen up its act – and along with other government agencies to simplify, simplify, and simplify. No one should have the excuse that they don’t train because they don’t understand the grant system – yet that was all too common a refrain.
The great and really uplifting part of the inquiry, though, was the number of individuals and organisations that were going the extra mile to get young people interested in construction, or get them work ready, or give them a job. But this is on too small a scale at the moment.
There are certainly the rumblings of change – the engineering sector has plans to attract 100,000 apprentices in the next five years. Some of these will find their way into the construction industry. Next week a group of contractors are expected to be invited to Downing Street during National Apprenticeship Week as trailblazers for the government’s reform of apprenticeships. Let’s hope this enthusiasm proves infectious.
Those of us who have been involved in the report have certainly been gratified by the warm response from BIS. Certainly, the report’s calls for an industry training summit, driven by government, the CITB and Construction Leadership Council is looking promising. It would be a great start and hopefully a focal point for the leaders to tackle this crisis together.
Government can do so much of course. But as Michael Brown, the deputy chief executive of the CIOB, one of the sponsors of the report, said at the launch, above all else we need imaginative leadership from industry. Make training top of the next board agenda. Get the chief executive to make it top priority. Do whatever you can to make training “hot”. If construction leaders show an interest in today’s young people, you know what, may be more will show an interest in construction.
The Parliamentarians’ inquiry and No More Lost Generations report was produced with the support of the CIOB and the CITB. Download the report here