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WOODCHESTER MANSION SPEECH - 12 September 2005
Peter Lobban, Chief Executive, ConstructionSkills.

Heritage Skills – Working Together to Meet the Challenge.

Your Royal Highness, my Lords, Minister of State, Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to be with you today at Woodchester Mansion. Not only does it live up to its billing as a “unique living text book of building techniques and architecture”, it is also a monument to the skills of the people who built it.

I am delighted to speak to you today on behalf of my own organisation, ConstructionSkills, and also on behalf of Dr Simon Turley, my counterpart in English Heritage. Simon has asked me to say how much he regrets being unable to be with us today.

ConstructionSkills, is the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry. It is a partnership between CITB GB, CITB Northern Ireland and CIC - the Construction Industry Council - covering the professions such as architecture and civil engineering. Our role as a Sector Skills Council is to develop and implement a Sector Skills Agreement to ensure that the industry has all the skills it needs to build and maintain the built environment that we often take for granted:

  • schools, hospitals, roads, railways, airports, offices, houses
  • sports stadiums, and, of course, historic buildings.

At ConstructionSkills we regard the maintenance of the UK’s historic buildings as every bit as important as the construction of such iconic projects such as Terminal 5, Wembley Stadium, or the 2012 London Olympics. And we see our partnership with English Heritage as a key element of the Construction Sector Skills Agreement. It is the first such agreement that English Heritage has developed with any other organisation and clearly signifies the importance that English Heritage also places on the skills challenges that we face.

Our partnership is very much focused on supporting the work of the National Heritage Training Group. One of the early outputs from that Group was the publication this June of the first ever labour and skills needs analysis for the built heritage sector:

“Traditional Building Craft Skills – Assessing the Need, Meeting the Challenge.”

That analysis revealed that the built heritage sector is a much larger part of the construction industry than we had previously realised, worth over £3.5 thousand million per annum and employing over 86 thousand people. And its importance is set to increase with the average spend per building set to rise – up to 4% in the case of listed buildings. Taking account of existing job vacancies in the sector there is a need to recruit over 6,500 people into the built environment sector in the next year alone.

What’s more, a study of the sector workforce age profile demonstrates a distinct lack of workers and trainers in the 30-45 age group. Whilst the effects of this is being cushioned by the presence of older and more experienced workers, there is a potential retirement time-bomb which, if not addressed, may lead to far greater skills shortages than already exist. The report also shows that the shortages are not spread evenly across occupations or regions and this will need to be reflected in the nature and location of any training provision.

Fortunately the National Heritage Training Group has not just published the research findings it has also agreed an Action Plan to address the identified skills challenges.

The key actions include:

  • Promotion of built heritage career opportunities to people – young and old.
  • A Train the Trainers initiative so that the skills of the current generation are
  • passed onto future generations
  • Recognising and rewarding heritage skills with a Mastercrafts qualification
  • Developing approved registers of contractors to work on listed buildings
  • Fostering a culture amongst clients where training is integrated into projects

At its heart is a problem that the heritage industry itself will need to address. According to the research , the heritage sector shares the same sub-contracting culture commonplace in the rest of the construction industry – skills are bought in as and when they are needed in the short term and not developed for the long term.

In other parts of the construction industry we are focussing on major projects and working with clients main contractors and the sub-contractors in the project supply chains. We are also involving training providers to arrange for local or on-site training so that taught skills can be practiced on the job. We are working with local community organisations and others, such as the Princes Trust, to qualify local people on these long term projects. And we are liaising with local funding organisations to ensure that the necessary support is available.

The National Heritage Training Group is promoting this approach for the built heritage sector through a series of regional workshops. The aim is to pull together all the parties who can make a difference and develop arrangements that can work in each area.

Maybe this is a chance to think out of the box. For example as a Sector Skills Council ConstructionSkills has just been asked if it wishes to support a Skills Academy for the construction industry. We submitted an initial Expression of interest last Friday. You may not be surprised to hear that we are not proposing yet another major training building. Rather we are proposing a mobile support structure that can be located at major construction locations and provide an integrated learning experience.

Perhaps this approach might also work for the built heritage sector.

Given the National Heritage Training Group’s initiative and our opportunities as a Sector Skills Council to influence Government support for skills, today’s discussion are particularly timely. I look forward to meeting and talking to many of you throughout the day and hearing your views about how we can all work together to address the skills challenges facing the built heritage that is so precious to all of us here today.

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