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Training in construction: Building foundations for the future

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BuildingThe construction industry is reeling from the effects of the recession. Mark Farrar, the chief executive of ConstructionSkills, looks ahead to the tough training challenges that face the sector in the coming months.







These are challenging times. We know from past experience that certain segments of the construction industry are often among the first sectors to be hit by recession and we are certainly feeling the impact of that now. We also know that historically, those skilled workers who leave the industry in times of trouble tend not to return. Yet the construction industry is also one of the first to recover.

The challenges for all construction businesses will be primarily around managing the order book, balancing cashflow whilst retaining work, but a solid approach to training and health and safety can help companies to win new contracts, retain existing ones and weather the financial storm.

Photo of Mark Farrar"Over the past 12 months there have been significant changes in training and qualifications and the introduction of new health and safety legislation. All of this can only help businesses become stronger in what will be a challenging time."

Alistair Darling has brought forward £3bn worth of public sector construction and the government remains committed to delivering a large number of publicly procured projects this year. Work on Building Schools for the Future, upgrading FE Colleges and the new build and refurbishment of hospitals and social housing will help to create work and training opportunities this year.

Over the past 12 months there have been significant changes in training and qualifications and the introduction of new health and safety legislation. All of this can only help businesses become stronger in what will be a challenging time.

Health and Safety will be a big concern for the industry this year and awareness is certainly on the increase. The introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act in April 2008 has had an impact on the way firms approach the issue. It sets out a way of convicting an organisation where gross failure in the management of a project results in a person's death. ConstructionSkills has developed a series of courses to help employers stay on top of the latest legislative developments, and in 2009 we hope to make further progress in improving standards, not least through our contribution to the forth-coming independent review into fatalities in the sector.

Training developments over the last 12 months will also provide businesses with opportunities to up-skill their workers in the coming year.

Last year also saw the rapid expansion of the National Skills Academy for Construction (NSAfC) network. The network has been hugely successful in terms of providing On Site Assessment and Training (OSAT) to workers who would perhaps not have otherwise had the opportunities to gain a new qualification. This is an employer-led, project-based initiative which aims to drive up the standard of industry training for everyone from apprentices to experienced workers, and tackles skills shortages across the UK. In addition, because local workers are given priority, communities benefit by developing their pool of skilled, qualified people who are likely to find employment. If the NSAfC network is to continue to grow, it will need ongoing support from private and public sector stakeholders.

"Those skilled workers who leave the industry in times of trouble tend not to return."

Similarly, in 2008, Scotland also saw a rapid expansion of its training capabilities with the launch of a £3.8m National Construction College (NCC) which will deliver training for up to 160 apprentices and 6,000 adult learners every year from now one. And in Wales, ConstructionSkills established the Cross-Party Group on the Welsh Built Environment, which will have a key role to play in ensuring the devolved administration have the most up-to-date data relating to skills and training in the industry.

In light of training developments such as these, businesses need to be aware more than ever of the importance in taking on apprentices and continuing to train their workforce. This will be invaluable in terms of keeping the momentum going through the downturn, and ensuring that construction firms are strong for when the demand for business picks up.

As the Sector Skills Council for construction, we are already doing all we can to support industry during these times. In September 08 we set up a matching service with the Department of Innovation Universities and Skills which has already relocated over 300 apprentices, across England, Scotland and Wales, who were otherwise unable to complete their apprenticeship as a result of the downturn.

We have also launched a new Customer Charter underlining our commitment to our customers and setting out our goals to be ever more responsive to businesses needs and we have produced a suite of courses offering businesses advise on surviving the downturn. We are already on the right path as highlighted by the 23% increase in CITB-ConstructionSkills Grant claimed in 2008, now totalling over £170m distributed to industry.

We expect 2009 to be a hard year, but with careful management and a strong commitment to training, many firms within the industry can become stronger. Our longer-term forecast still indicates growth, but over the next 12 months a smart business approach will help make all the difference to keeping the construction industry alive and well.


Mark Farrar is the chief executive of ConstructionSkills, the UK’s Sector Skills Council for Construction. For more information on the support ConstructionSkills can offer call 0844 844 0046

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