Training under construction
According to the Scottish Funding Council, the health sector last year had grown by 83 per cent since 1998. In construction, it had increased by 63 per cent.
New housing projects nationally and Scottish Executive initiatives, such as free personal care for the elderly and a focus on nursery nurses, have fuelled the need for vocational training, the colleges say.
Tom Kelly, chief executive of the Association of Scotland's Colleges, said colleges are responding to the needs of industry. "In a sense, that's what colleges have always done," he said. "There is a lot of construction work on the go and we have tended to have a more up and down provision. We did have a period where demand from students was slow, but inevitably that has picked up.
"With care, there is a sustained long-term trend which we don't expect to change. We would like to have a more sustained level of activity on the construction side because you could end up with a shortage of plumbers, for example."
New legislation compelling employers to ensure staff are trained has resulted in a growing demand for health and safety courses. "Even people doing basic feeding and cleaning in care homes should be qualified for it.
That's a difference from the past," said Mr Kelly.
Ray Harris, principal of Telford College, has seen major changes. "I think it is the increasing legislative pressure," he said. "When I came here four years ago, we shared a health and safety manager with Stevenson College; now we have three full-time people working in health and safety That's how the world has moved on."
Referring to the college's new building, which opened this session, he added: "The reason we have spent a lot of money building three good areas for construction training is because of the increase in demand."
Mr Harris also attributed the surge in demand to the influx of workers from new EU member states who, while skilled workers, need health and safety training as well as improving their language proficiency (see above).
Robert Bellfield, associate principal at Aberdeen College, says it has had a similar experience. In 2002-03, there were 250 people undertaking apprenticeships in construction, plumbing, joinery and brickwork, and painting and decorating in the college. This year, that has risen to 360.
Mr Bellfield attributes the demand to more house-building firms stipulating contractors have the industry-accepted standard CITB construction skills certificate. Free personal care for the elderly has also fuelled demand at Aberdeen, where health provides the greatest proportion of student activity.
He said: "We have seen an increase in the number of short courses in health and safety such as manual handling - how to lift people, and that kind of thing.
"There is also a strong demand for SVQ levels two and three in care, which is particularly driven by the inspection regime for homes. There is a requirement within that regime for a certain proportion of staff to have that qualification."
According to Mr Bellfield, the huge increases in both areas demonstrates the responsiveness of the sector to both employers and prospective students. "Companies are getting increasing demand for these services but people are also seeing these as good employment opportunities," he said.
"Demand has been increasing and we have been able to respond to that."