For many employers in construction, getting over the recession is proving more challenging than anticipated. Nevertheless, the recovery will eventually come and, in order to take full advantage, we need to ensure we have the right skills in place. But can the current qualifications and training produce the types of skills and talent needed? That is the question CITB-ConstructionSkills, the skills council and training board for the construction industry, is seeking to answer in its skills strategy review.
Recent changes to higher education have created opportunities for FE colleges, as more young people look at alternatives to degrees. While this could result in an increase in the quantity and calibre of young people considering vocational qualifications, students are increasingly focused on clear outcomes and employment prospects, putting colleges under pressure to ensure courses are relevant and attractive.
The Wolf report's recommendations are also expected to alter the vocational education framework dramatically, as is already being witnessed by the Government's emphasis on apprenticeships. There is concern, however, at the lack of consultation with employers, and disappointment over losing the Young Apprenticeship programme and possibly the 14-19 diploma in construction and the built environment. These were seen by employers as excellent and credible schemes.
Seddon Construction is continuing to invest significantly in apprentices and most construction employers are in agreement about the benefits they can bring. But the collective enthusiasm is not borne out by the latest figures. Numbers of apprenticeships are down, with demand far outstripping supply. And there are currently four times as many young people on full-time courses than in apprenticeships. In an ideal world, there would be enough companies working with FE colleges to deliver apprenticeships, but many cannot afford to commit to doing so in the current climate.
To get the balance of full-time courses and apprenticeships right, we need to look at new ways of working together and, as ever, the funding issues will need to be addressed.
For this review to be really effective, it is vital that everyone's voice is heard. The input from FE providers, course tutors, trainers and programme managers is critical to produce a clear picture of the status quo. Over the next few years, employers' relationships with colleges and course providers need to strengthen further if we are to achieve our mutual goals. Ultimately, we need to remember that the next generation lies at the heart of all this - it is our collective responsibility to nurture future talent.
Roy Cavanagh is the training and education executive at Seddon Construction. For more information about the skills strategy review, visit www.cskills.org.