In her announcement last week on reforming housing provision, Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, has set an ambitious but achievable target of building 35,000 homes every year by the middle of the next decade. This target can be met, but only with a significant increase in the number of skilled professionals available to build these new homes.
To meet the demands of the projects already in development, the Scottish construction industry requires an estimated 7,000 new recruits every year until 2011. The Scottish Building Apprenticeship and Training Council register 2,800 new entrants a year and, if we include new entrants to the electrical and plumbing trades, the total is consistently in excess of 4,000.
If we are to increase this to meet the requirements for 35,000 new-build homes, then we must ensure the employment opportunities created are sustainable, and afford a quality four-year apprenticeship.
In recent years, we have seen too many short-term training initiatives, which do not provide the individuals with the skills and training to pursue a lifelong career in the construction industry. These initiatives have been funded by the public purse and, in many cases, give false expectation to the participants. I hope the Scottish Government is ready to expand the funding for comprehensive apprenticeship training, including adults, through the new skills agency.
The return of the "sandwich" course would be welcome, as it allows an element of work experience to the benefit of both the student and the employer.
While there is a large number of opportunities for skilled professionals in the construction industry, some people are put off by attitudes which fail to value vocational training. It is vital that schools provide the option of vocational careers, and colleges and universities have the necessary capacity to deliver these courses.
Michael Levack, chief executive, Scottish Building Federation (and Employers' Secretary) Carrongrange Avenue, Stenhousemuir.