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28 NOVEMBER 2005

Thank you for inviting me to your awards ceremony today.

I was going to start with a question for you – why did you begin a career in construction?

But I don’t need to. The answer is all around us. The reason many of you will have joined the industry is so that you can help to build football stadiums like the Reebok. This stadium, along with the one at Manchester City, are great monuments to our industry, to what we can do. The people who built them can feel justly proud of what they have achieved – for the country and for their communities.

You’re in the industry at an exciting time - it’s booming. In fact it’s the biggest growth in a generation. We‘ve got major projects on the horizon. Of course there’s the Olympics in London. Some of you may become involved in building that. £2.4bn will be invested in world class sporting venues, in homes, and facilities and parks.

Here in the North West, construction is one of the region’s largest industries. It is fundamental to all other economic activity. Its output is rising year on year. Without construction, nothing much else would happen. Some of the current big projects include a massive housing regeneration development in Liverpool, building skyscrapers and loft developments in Manchester, and new transport infrastructure. Throughout the country construction is in demand. In the next ten to fifteen years we will build 100 new hospitals, and a massive school building programme and, it is intended, a million new homes.

But to build great projects, we need skilled people. And there aren’t enough of them. Right now the construction industry needs twice as many skilled people as it currently has. You’re part of that new generation. I suspect one of the best things you can have done is join this apprenticeship scheme. Armed with the best training from a quality firm like Seddons, you are the future of the industry. As joiners, bricklayers, plumbers and decorators, your apprenticeship will give the real skills which you need, and the whole industry needs.

It’s not just the big projects that matter. Your skills will also help to build new schools, shopping centres, business facilities, hospitals, and houses. What you build will be with people throughout their lives. When you build a football stadium, you’re building more than just the structure. You are building a platform for your players and a place for the community to cheer on its team. Likewise when you build houses, you are really building homes, regenerating areas and creating new communities.

I am reminded of the story about President John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s. He was inspecting the space rocket and satellite launch facilities at Cape Canaveral. Seeing a man working, he asked him “What do you do – sweep the floors, put the nuts and bolts in, build the rigging?” To which the man replied, “Oh, I’m putting a man on the moon.” Always have ambition and vision. Never lose sight of what you are building for, and what it means to the community as a whole.

Seddon understands this. That’s why they focus so strongly on quality training. As a major firm in the North West, Seddon’s takes its responsibilities seriously. It takes its motto ‘people building for people’ and turns it into reality.

So what does ConstructionSkills do?

It’s our job to support the industry. Our mission is to achieve a fully skilled and professional UK construction industry, working safely, adding value and delivering sustainable development. We are responsible for:

  • Assessing the skills and manpower needs of the industry
  • Ensuring there are enough new recruits entering the workforce
  • Ensuring that enough training is carried out to meet the skills needs: and
  • Encouraging the industry to improve its performance

ConstructionSkills, with the professional bodies in the Construction Industry Council, is responsible for the UK construction sector, and the whole education and training experience, schools, FE colleges and higher education. This makes us a very powerful and united voice, and one which is there specifically to discover and deliver the skills and employment requirements of the industry.

Although the industry is booming, we face real challenges. We need to move faster and further in developing and implementing new technology and processes. We can be good at embracing change. But sometimes we are also negative ‘jobsworths’, and the industry doesn’t need that. By making training integral to a company’s business planning, in the way that Seddon’s has done, we can improve our performance and ensure we meet our clients’ needs.

We’ve agreed with the government what needs to happen in providing skills for the construction industry and how we’re going to provide it. This is our Sector Skills Agreement.

We’re working out what the training needs are going to be over the next 10-15 years. We’re doing this by talking to people like you, by seeing what is really happening on the ground at places like Seddon. Our new Construction Skills Networks, one for every region and nation of the United Kingdom, will involve people with real local knowledge about the industry, its customers, its projects and workforce. The Construction skills Network will be our greatest weapon in the fight to fill the skills gap.

And we’ve had good success so far. We have increased apprentice grants by 30%. We’ve produced award winning advertising campaigns, including TV adverts highlighting construction as a positive career choice – one that’s exciting, satisfying and respected. National Construction Week in October provides a focus and celebration of what we do.

We are putting a great deal of work into helping the industry present itself to young people as an exciting and varied career. Apprenticeships are crucial for making sure the industry gets the right high calibre skills for its people. A workforce with more skills and better qualifications will create buildings that are better quality, built to time and cost, and built more safely.

You are part of the vanguard. Some manufacturing industries are shifting abroad. Not construction. We’re always going to need to build things. Our schools, our houses – you have to be here to build them.

I’ve got a final question for you. In ten, twenty years time what projects will you walk past and be able to say “I built that”? Who knows, some of you might be building casinos in Manchester, and then some of you will be building them in Las Vegas. What you can know for sure is that having the apprenticeship gives you a passport to a worldwide industry which will always be needed and which is growing in output day by day. Good luck with your careers. Thank you, Seddons, and all the very best for 2006.

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