Stuart Littlefair is the specialist manager for ConstructionSkills

The current economic climate challenges every business sector, and construction is no different. Yet longer-term forecasts demonstrate that the industry will recover, and when it does there will be an increased demand for specialist workers in response to changing construction methods and new innovations.

Already specialist contractors are heavily involved in all types of construction work, whether it is infrastructure, housing or commercial development. The sector employs an estimated 190,000 operatives providing a significant contribution to the industry’s annual turnover.

However within the specialist sector a minority sub-sector exists, which consists of trades such as drilling & sawing and dry-lining, where there can be a lack of training and assessment provision through traditional Further Education. This can come from the specialist nature of the work, relatively small operative population and insufficient funding for the often higher cost of specialist training.

ConstructionSkills has partnered with over sixty specialist employer federations to co-ordinate and develop bespoke, flexible training programmes for many of the smaller specialist occupations, and accredit them through its National Specialist Accredited Centre (NSAC).

One of the key outcomes of this work has been the introduction of Specialist Apprenticeships, developed in areas where previously none were available, including: Road Safety Marking, Joint Sealant Application, Façade Preservation, Resin Flooring, Surface Preparation, Land Drilling, Passive Fire Protection, Dry Lining and Roof Slating and Tiling. This is one of the main factors which have contributed to a significant rise in specialists gaining qualifications as the new Specialist Apprenticeship Programmes enables recruits to gain an S/NVQ level 2 in the appropriate trade.

The Drilling & Sawing Association, through its subsidiary DSA training limited, is the training provider for the Drilling & Sawing Specialist Apprentice Programme.

Hugh Wylde the Secretary for the Drilling & Sawing Association says: "It is fantastic that, for the first time in many years, our specialist sector can provide young entrants with formal, accredited training that covers both technical competence and safety considerations."

For over three years ConstructionSkills has been working with trade bodies, manufacturers and specialist federations to develop new Apprenticeship qualifications to make sure these sub-sectors of industry are able to formerly qualify its recruits. This year it is hoped a further 10 Specialist Apprenticeships will be developed including: Industrial Concrete Flooring, Hard Landscaping, Lead Roofing, Chimney Engineering, Hire Desk Rental, Load Bearing Steel Frame Systems, Insulated Concrete Formwork, Roof Sheeting and Cladding, Single Ply Roofing and Hard Metal Roofing.

The introduction of industry-recognised construction Specialist Apprenticeships has relied heavily on the support of a wide range of non-standard training provision through organisations such as manufacturers, trade associations, independent consultants and accreditation schemes. To ensure the continuing success of these programmes and their ability to attract a wider audience to their respective sectors, it is critical that these valuable training partners are recognised and adequate public sector funding is made available.

The steady growth within this sector and the development of the qualifications landscape illustrates how our industry is constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of the built environment. We must continue to make this a priority despite increased economic uncertainty to enable the future growth of the industry.

Stuart Littlefair is the specialist manager for ConstructionSkills, the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry.

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