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Chris Blythe

Our solution to the skills crisis is no solution at all

CIOB supports new ‘rigorous’

14- to-19 qualifi cations Reforms will improve links between school, training and employment

The Department for Education has launched a revised list of technical and vocational qualifi cations for 14 to 19 year olds, including courses in construction, planning and the built environment. The announcement

categorises qualifi cations into

three new groups that create a vocational pathway, and strips out thousands of poor-quality courses across a wide range of subjects. The lists, which are updated annually, for the fi rst

time cover the full range of technical and vocational qualifi cations taught up to the age of 19. The three new categories of qualifi cation start with the new ‘technical awards’ for 14- to 16-year- olds. They focus on practical and technical subjects, and offer an opportunity to gain skills and knowledge not usually acquired through GCSEs. These are followed by ‘technical certifi cates’, aimed at 16- to 19-year-olds. These provide initial technical training and a route into a skilled trade or occupation, where employers recognise entry at this level, and provide access to further training. Finally, students will have the option of level 3

qualifi cations (on a par with A levels). These are all backed by employers as providing entry

to an apprenticeship, other skilled employment or a technical degree. The announcement follows on from a review in 2011 by Professor Alison Wolf, which found that thousands of young people were doing vocational courses of little value. As a result, thousands of qualifi cations that did not meet the new robust standards have been stripped away. The latest qualifi cations are approved for teaching from September 2015 and reporting in 2017 performance tables. All the qualifi cations have been designed with,

or approved by, employers, and are also backed by higher education institutions and industry bodies, including the CIOB and the Institute of Hospitality. Commenting on the announcement, Bridget

Bartlett, deputy chief executive of the CIOB (pictured top left) said: "The development of rigorous vocational qualifi cations that employers value and respect is incredibly important. Qualifi cations that meet these new standards will enable pupils to make informed career choices as well as improving their employability skills. "The construction sector is currently facing skills shortages and the emergence of high-quality vocational qualifi cations in schools will be key to the future success of this economically important global industry."

Novus event advises the industry's 'millennial managers'

Directors at Crossrail and Berkeley Homes were among speakers giving construction graduates a unique employers’ perspective on the skills they will need in the industry at a special Novus event held in London last month. The Novus: Skills for the Future conference, part

of the CIOB Inspiring the Future of Construction conference, offered students advice on how to secure employment with insights and feedback from employers, recruiters and educationalists. The speakers included Stuart Powls, area business manager at Crossrail; Peter Smith, managing director for Berkeley Eastern Counties; and Duncan Bullimore, construction director at Hays Recruitment. The audience was drawn from Novus committee members, young professionals and student members from the universities of Greenwich,


Kingston, London South Bank, Westminster, Reading, West London and Brighton, as well as Anglia Ruskin, Nottingham Trent, the College of Estate Management and UCL. Powls gave an overview of the vast array of jobs

on the Crossrail project, spanning from on-site work through to pre-construction planning phases. Novus chairman and CIOB Trustee Jason

Margetts FCIOB, who chaired the conference, said that many construction graduates are still concerned about their prospects after university. “We need the industry and universities and

colleges to work together and communicate more. Industry has a responsibility to tell universities what they require from candidates and universities have a responsibility to research and ask about relevant content to better prepare students for industry,” he said.

One subject came up time and time again at the CIOB's

Inspiring the Future conference last November: the construction industry's looming skills crisis. Nothing has

changed in the interim: a recent report by KPMG for the London Chamber of Commerce found that 20% more trained workers will be needed to build the £96bn of infrastructure that London and the South-east will require in the next two years. The crunch may come as soon as April next year.

So what is to be done? KPMG

recommends making training a requirement for tier-one contractors bidding for public contracts. This is not a new idea, but even if it were implemented, the structure of the industry means it effects may be limited. Some 93% of workers are employed

by fi rms with fewer than 10 staff, and the industry's business model is based on subcontracting, which means nobody has much security: trainees can't be sure they'll get the quality of courses they need, or that they'll be able to complete them. Employer worry about the cost of taking on a beginner and funding them as they slowly become productive. And at the end of it, is the trainee really skilled or just less unskilled? And how long will it be before they get a job with someone else? In industries such as aerospace, the

value of the output is high, so the relative cost of training is lower and the skills gain more valuable. Also, the industry is more stable, so fi rms can be confi dent that the workers will stay. I am not sure what the solution is. In

all probability we will overcome the crisis as we have always done, by importing skilled labour from abroad. Service industries such as hospitality and retail also prefer to employ low-cost migrants, so it is not surprising that the CBI told the prime minister to back off the migration issue. Migration keeps pay rates down and that’s good for businesses. For construction, the savings from

the lower cost workforce more than compensates for the inconvenience of paying the CITB levy. But the low take-up of the funds raised by that levy is testament to employers' lack of appetite for training. The current boom masks some fundamental structural problems for the industry, and these are problems for the industry to resolve, not the government – which was a view strongly endorsed by Sir John Armitt at Inspiring the Future. But how?

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