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Hirers like Hawk Plant need a reliable source of skilled operators.

People and plant

A forum organised by the CPA enabled construction industry representatives to air their views about future training needs.

The CPA’s Training on Plant in Construction (Topic) Group hosted a forum in Solihull recently to formulate a strategy on the future direction of skills for plant and equipment. It brought together representatives from organisations needing, affected by, delivering or setting standards for skills training and focused on several key areas. These included identifying the skills needed, reviewing existing provision, determining where new employees might be found, and how to promote recruitment and career development.

The day was chaired by A-Plant’s Head of Training, Bob Harper, who currently chairs Topic. He said that such a session was timely given the prevailing state of change in areas like methods of delivering training, the trend to reduce labour in some tasks, and the decline in expertise available as qualified people retire. Another factor was the recent changes in the CITB’s structure and operation. The forum, therefore, aimed to identify key training issues and how they could be best addressed going forward.

Giving a client’s perspective, Paul Whitehead, Construction Plant Lead with Highways England, explained that the agency was set to deliver projects worth £8bn over the next four years and needed to ensure that sufficient skilled personnel were available at a time when other large schemes such as HS2 were also under way. He suggested that, with many thousands of workers expected to retire over the next decade, and with Brexit perhaps denying access to a large number of overseas workers, the need to co-ordinate future training was clear.

Paul Allman, General Manager of Hawk Plant Hire, agreed that factors like retirement placed pressures on recruitment. In Hawk’s case,

it currently has approximately 2,500 items of plant, 600 plant operators and 40 service engineers nationwide, and large projects like HS2 and the Hinkley Point nuclear site increased demand for skilled people. He reported that uncertainty around Brexit was creating anxiety amongst workers hailing from overseas, many of who were highly skilled. Already in 2018, Hawk has taken on 16 new apprentices and is successfully running initiatives to attract more women into construction. Paul Allman said it was important for all employers to invest in new people and for clients to accept and encourage learners on a job site.

Simon Keen from Reaseheath College in Cheshire said that he welcomed the increasing focus on vocational and practical training, rather than having to follow rigidly defined qualifications that could be restrictive. New initiatives like Trailblazer Apprenticeships were useful, he believed, in enabling employers to work together to design new standards for occupations within their specific industries, and to liaise with training bodies to develop appropriate programmes. Furthermore, they could allow different disciplines to be combined if there was a practical need. Simon Keen also said that, while it was obviously important to focus on school leavers and young people, training also needed to recognise the needs of older workers and those entering construction from other industries.

George Walton from the Keith Cook Training agency, specialising in Health & Safety, suggested new technology could be used to raise awareness amongst young people, via social media, virtual reality and equipment simulators, and live video links could show what the industry was like in practice. He said it was important to promote the idea that construction offered genuine long-term career opportunities, not only in plant operation and servicing, but also in related positions like hire controllers, IT professionals, finance, human resources and Health & Safety. Methods could be found whereby existing workers could talk directly with potential recruits to give a real-life insight into the industry.

Delegates broke out into several working groups to discuss in more depth some of the issues raised by the speakers, and these findings were collated to help the CPA’s Topic Group to focus on training needs across the plant industry and related areas, and to help identify appropriate ways of delivering them.

• Nationwide Platforms is using virtual reality technology to complement its powered access training. 15 020 7796 3366

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