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Ideas to build on

The construction industry is eager to recruit new blood and the opportunities are rich and varied. Sarah Scally reports

Which industry needs at least 88,000 new recruits a year and employs 1 in 14 workers in the UK? The construction industry - and maintaining this flow of new recruits is key to ensuring that there will be an adequate, fully-trained and qualified workforce in the future.

This workforce for the future represents a huge variety of career opportunities for young people and covers a real spectrum of skills and trades. Along with the huge choice of different careers there are also various ways of getting into the industry.

A lot of these professions were represented in one way or another at the Dorset Skills Festival, held at Kingston Maurward college in Dorchester recently. This huge three-day event was a joint initiative organised by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), Connexions and the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) and, with more than 5,000 students attending the event, it's the biggest of its kind in the South West region.

The Skills Festival was designed to be interactive and allowed the students visiting the different skill "zones" to have a go at some of the trades and professions on offer. For instance, Weymouth college had a large stand where visitors could have a go at building a brick archway. They could also attempt a bit of plumbing or try their hands at masonry, planning a design before chipping away on blocks of stone.

Students acted as the teachers, explaining how to do it and were able to talk first hand about what their chosen career was like. As Andrew Williams, chief executive of the Connexions service says: "The Skills Festival is different from any other career event due to the hands-on, have a go, approach which in a fun way will give young people the opportunity to see a terrifically broad range of skills and to actually try their hand at what's on offer."

Another exhibitor and the focus for a group of students from Ashdown Technology College in Poole, was CITB-ConstructionSkills. As a partner in the industry's Sector Skills Council, this organisation is helping to provide assistance in all aspects of recruiting, training and qualifying the construction workforce. Gemma from Ashdown Technology College is interested in carpentry and was able to have a go at assembling a small-scale staircase on display, putting bits together and learning how the angles worked to form the individual steps.

Ashdown Technology College has specialist technology status and, as such, students have to choose DT as one of their compulsory options. As teacher Mark Adams explains: "Options are coming up at school and I think this sort of event helps them make decisions and starts to make them focus on what they think they may want to do in the future."

Construction is the UK's largest industry and has some challenges ahead if it is to meet the demands being placed on it. For example, the task of building the infrastructure for the London 2012 Olympics will create approximately 33,500 additional jobs over the next six years, with civil engineering and a range of specialist skills in particularly high demand.

The industry is looking to increase the amount of apprenticeships being completed by 400 per cent and is encouraging more women and ethnic minorities to join in the industry, through positive action events.

Through its regional education teams CITB-ConstructionSkills works independently and with partners to provide a range of hands-on activities for young people. They work with professionals from all areas from the Connexions service through to teachers and schools, and even organise school trips to construction sites.

CITB-ConstructionSkills is certainly busy and with another Skills Festival organised for April in Gloucestershire and National Construction Week coming up in October, encouraging young people to become one of these 88,000 recruits for 2006 should be a little easier.

l National Construction week October 5-12 Gloucestershire Skills Festival April 25-27

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