A skilled workforce will always help to grow and strengthen the construction industry so that it is able to compete on a global scale.
Three years ago Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, commissioned Lord Sandy Leitch to identify how Britain could become a world leader in skills by 2020. The UK was, and is, keen to increase its skills attainment to maximise economic growth and productivity.
The ambitious report, Prosperity for all in the Global Economy: World Class Skills, commonly known as the Leitch Report, highlighted skills as the key to unlock people’s potential and outlined recommendations and policy implications required for change in order to succeed. Essentially, the Leitch Report became the byword for skills and training needs across Government.
The impact of the recession
Leitch understood that whatever the forecast for future economic conditions, the demand for skills would increase. He recognised a need to adapt, using skills to our advantage, including developing ‘demand-led’ vocational skills delivered through NVQs and specialised Diplomas.
However, the downturn has now affected how we achieve Leitch’s goals. Despite positive signs that the economy is beginning to turn a corner, skills policy goals now need to reflect the challenges the UK has faced.
Filling the skills gap
The construction industry has dealt with skills shortages since the recession of the early 1990s, when many employers slashed their training budgets. Between 1990 and 1993, the total number of trainees in the sector fell from around 41,500 to 29,300: a drop of nearly 30 per cent. And, whilst there was a gradual rise from 1994 onwards, we didn’t return to the same level until the year 2000, a decade later.
But, there have been many skills and training successes since the release of the Leitch Report. Apprenticeship applications are currently at, 20,776, during 2009, and many people in the construction industry have enrolled in courses at the National Construction College, Europe’s largest construction training provider.
However, there are still areas of the construction industry suffering from skills gaps.
Where we go from here
With many apprentices currently ‘at risk’ of being laid off by their employers, establishing education and training routes, including apprenticeships, is vital in order to reward society in the long-term with skills.
ConstructionSkills have always recognised the value in consulting employers, to bring quality control to the range of qualifications and training opportunities available. This can ensure that industry skills are not wasted, but ensuring that entrants are of high-quality, in order to remain competitive. We want to demonstrate how skills contribute to business success by including employers’ demands for clearer training structures, to deliver improved qualifications.
Despite the downturn, training cannot be sacrificed if we want to rebuild our economy and grow to compete on a global stage, as proposed in the Leitch Report three years ago. When budgets are tight, a careful focus on business need can even help strengthen positions for the upturn.
Mike Bialyj is the employer services director for ConstructionSkills, the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry