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SPEECH BY SIR MICHAEL LATHAM DL,
ATF/CONSTRUCTIONSKILLS APPRENTICESHIP WORKSHOP,
ICE, 13 APRIL 2005

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of ConstructionSkills, I’d like to welcome you to the Institute of Civil Engineers, and thank you for coming along to this important seminar.

The aim of this session is to discuss how to increase the number of apprenticeship opportunities for young people in our industry, and of equal importance, how to ensure these young people are fully qualified at the end of their apprenticeship terms.

In many ways, today’s seminar is about good news and bad news.

First, the good news. Thanks to the work done across the industry to promote construction as a career, there has been a huge rise in applications from school leavers to join the industry at the craft levels where skills shortages are most acute.

A great deal of work has gone into helping the industry present itself to young people as the exciting and varied career that it is. High profile initiatives such as CITB-ConstructionSkills’ ‘Positive Image’ campaign, the commitment of many construction employers to attracting more people to the industry, and events that allow young people to directly experience our work, such as National Construction Week, have all contributed.

As a result, FE Colleges are now inundated with applications from school leavers to train in all aspects of the industry. Our own Managing Agency, which places thousands of apprentices every year, is dealing with a wider and better quality pool of applicants.

The industry is estimated to need some 88,000 new entrants every year for the next five years. This renewed interest in working in construction can only help ensure our future and close the skills gaps that have often limited the industry’s expansion. That is also very encouraging and positive.

However, I spoke of good news and bad news, and there are real problems. Despite the fact that construction trades and professions are being seen as careers of choice, skills shortages are still a long way from being resolved.

As we know from the apprentices we place through our Managing Agency, many of those who start out in the industry, full of enthusiasm, do not become fully qualified members of the construction workforce.

Many of those who apply to an FE College or the Managing Agency, keen to learn a trade, are turned away because the places simply aren’t there for them – and are lost forever as an industry resource.

We are a victim of our own success. Our problem used to be not being able to find enough good young people. Now, we attract some of the brightest and best, but are letting them down by being unable to offer them the structure and experience they need to keep them in the industry.

Every apprentice needs an employer willing to take them on, to train them, and to see them as an investment in the future. Every young person learning a trade at college and committing themselves to full time further education needs to undergo periods of work experience to complete their course and gain their all-important NVQ qualification.

Theory and knowledge can be taught in the classroom, but skills need to be practised on-site. That is where real construction actually happens.

We are here today to look at how the industry can work together to make sure that as many young people as possible have that learning opportunity. And that they are encouraged to see that commitment through to the end qualification stage.

This drive to ensure that apprentices complete their frameworks is just as important as recruiting and placing them in the first place. Half trained is not enough.

With the industry moving towards a fully qualified workforce, we need to set an example by ensuring that our new recruits start out recognising the value of those qualifications. This way we sow the seeds for a better trained, safer and more productive workforce in the future.

The only people capable of offering these on-site opportunities and seeing apprenticeships through their frameworks are the same ones who will see the end benefit – us, the construction employers; and I am glad to say that my own company is engaged in apprenticeship, both directly and through our sub-contractors.

Much is already going on to encourage employers across the industry to increase their levels of involvement.

As part of ConstructionSkills’ work on the industry Sector Skills Agreement, the Major Contractors Group and the Major Home Builders Group have already made commitments in principle to find more work-based placements for young people.

These are the kind of commitments we need in order to develop framework structures that will work for both the employers and the apprentices.

To help address the critical issue of low completion rates for apprenticeship frameworks, we are also working closely with FE Colleges and training providers.

This is about ensuring that the NVQ assessment requirements are clearly understood, that best practice in completing work-based evidence portfolios is being shared, and that we improve the delivery of key skills.

ConstructionSkills is committed to working with government, employers, funders, colleges and private training providers to increase apprenticeship completions by 400% by 2010. This is an explicit target within the construction Sector Skills Agreement, developed to ensure we meet the skills needs of the future.

However, to provide the vital on-site training for such large numbers of young people, we will need to engage with parts of the industry that have not traditionally supported apprentices.

We need to look at ways of making the taking on of an apprentice more accessible than it has been before. And we need to share best practice across the industry.

Key to achieving this, and to the discussions in today’s seminars, will be a new initiative we have been working on with major employers, subcontractors, trades unions and FE colleges to establish a new apprenticeship pathway, specifically aimed at the subcontractor market. Peter Lobban will go into the details of this in his presentation shortly.

We have also been in discussion with the Learning and Skills Council about new funding routes, and I am pleased to announce that this has been successful. You’ll have the opportunity to find out more about these two developments during the course of the morning from Peter.

If we get it right with our industry’s new entrants, we stand construction in the best possible stead for meeting the future demands of the British economy.

It’s now down to individual employers to take the next steps in creating opportunities for the apprentices of today, and the skilled workers of tomorrow.

By coming here today, you have all demonstrated that you understand just how important this problem is, and CITB-ConstructionSkills is very grateful for your support.

It will be good to hear your thoughts on the way forward. It is vital for our industry that we attract and then deliver, an expert workforce, well trained and motivated, to construct the building and infrastructure projects upon which our nation, and indeed other nations abroad, depend. There can be no more serious responsibility for ConstructionSkills, our Sector Skills Council, to discharge, and we have absolute determination, with your essential help, to do exactly that.

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