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SPEECH BY SIR MICHAEL LATHAM DL, CHAIRMAN,
CITB-CONSTRUCTIONSKILLS AT UCATT CONFERENCE,
RIVIERA CONFERENCE CENTRE, TORQUAY, 20 JUNE 2006

I am delighted to be here with you today in Torquay, the heart of the English Riviera. It is really good to be able to join UCATT members again as I know how committed the Union is to skills and training, and that is really appreciated by all of us at CITB-ConstructionSkills.

The construction industry has moved on a pace since I last had the privilege of attending your conference in 2002. I’m looking forward to hearing from the speakers and discussing the progress we’ve made and the challenges we face with your delegates. I am proud to have on my desk at CITB-ConstructionSkills a splendid commemorative plate of UCATT which George Brumwell and your then President kindly gave me at your 2002 Conference.

I was invited to speak in 2002 by our dear friend George Brumwell and it is very sad that he is not here with us today. He is greatly missed by his many friends and colleagues.

As well as his long association with UCATT, George was the longest serving member of the CITB-ConstructionSkills Board. He was a tremendous supporter and advocate for the industry. He always said very passionately that better organisation, pay, health and safety standards and better trained, healthier workers were in the best interests of everyone, and how right he was.

George, as you know, was a prime mover behind the Construction Skills Certification Scheme, raising and recording skill levels in the industry. He was its much valued Chairman at his death, and he and I were in very regular contact. The scheme grew under his leadership to having more than 800,000 CSCS cardholders in 230 trades, supported by organisations such as the Major Contractors Group, National Contractors Federation, Major Home Builders Group and the Civil Engineering Contractors Association. Thanks to George’s hard work, the vision of a fully qualified, safe and professional industry is closer today than ever, though there is still much to be done.

George encouraged everyone he met to view the construction industry as sustaining our quality of life. He was a great leader of our industry, and we all mourn his passing and give thanks for his passion and commitment.

The close involvement of the Trade Unions is vital to our work at CITB-ConstructionSkills and I would like to thank Alan Ritchie most warmly for inviting me to speak here today. Alan showed great commitment to the industry for many years as UCATT’s Scottish Secretary, and serving on CITB-ConstructionSkills’ Scottish Advisory Committee and now as your elected General Secretary. It has been a privilege to work with him since he succeeded George, and I look forward to our continuing close contact in future.

At CITB-ConstructionSkills, our focus is the same as UCATT’s. We both must aim to encourage, influence and support a supply of skilled crafts people working on site, safely, effectively and competently, to satisfy the aspirations of the full range of construction clients.

As an industry, our role is to provide safe and comfortable conditions for people in their homes, children and teachers in schools, doctors, nurses, and patients in hospitals, passengers on trains, workers in offices, shoppers and sales people in stores and, I am delighted to add, athletes and spectators in Olympic Stadia. We are going to build the best Olympics, like our Aussie colleagues did in Sydney. Let’s hope we can rival their sporting gold medals in 2012!

It is all about delivering best practice across a tremendous variety of construction projects. That will create a stronger and more respected industry and better conditions for your members. So our aims are the same and we need to work together to deliver them.

Collaboration is at the heart of the development of the construction Sector Skills Agreement. This ensures the delivery of the right training in the right format for employers and individuals in the workforce, so that the skills needs of the future are met. Employers of all sizes, our Trade Unions, training providers and Government came together to increase training significantly and ensure our industry enjoys the long-term benefits which this will bring.

Construction has grown over 30% in the last ten years, both in output and workforce. Over the next ten years, the industry will be called upon even more strongly to complete the high profile projects currently under construction, each one unique and iconic in its own right. These projects will transform local areas, improve lives and provide opportunity and employment for local people – from the Olympic site development, to delivering the most ambitious house building, hospital and school-building programmes since the Second World War.

In order to meet the demands of these projects, the UK construction industry currently employs around 2.5 million people. Yet, from our own research, we know that we will need to recruit almost 90,000 people per year, all around the country, to ensure that we make this national regeneration programme a success.

According to the Construction Skills Network Report published earlier this month, construction growth is expected to shift from the North to the South and East. It will be driven by strong growth in the new build sector which include some £36 billion of large projects, costing £100million or more. These include the Kings Cross redevelopments, ports projects at Shellhaven (Thurrock), Felixstowe and Harwich, the East London Line extension, Victoria Station redevelopment and the Olympics and Thames Gateway construction programmes.

To fulfil this shift in focus and deliver these new projects, increasing the quality of our new recruits is vital. To do this, we need to trawl the widest pool of talent possible.

We will need new people, committed people and talented people. A home grown workforce that helps to build not only a sustainable construction industry, but also sustainable communities. We must leave a lasting legacy of people with the skills to obtain work in the construction industry and look after their own local environments. What’s more, a workforce that makes use of the talents of all UK citizens, regardless of gender, colour or religion.

Currently, the construction craft workforce is less than 1% women and less than 3% ethnic minorities. Yet, within ten years ethnic minorities will make up one half of the growth in the national workforce as a whole, and women are already becoming the majority. To ensure that construction can recruit the brightest and best in the future, we need to break down some of the perceptions, both within industry and education, about the people whom construction needs.

The industry faces broad challenges. We must improve our record on health and safety. We have to train a substantial, highly mobile workforce that is largely made up of small firms. Large companies employ less than 20% of the industry’s workforce and three quarters of the industry don’t currently invest in training.

Despite well-documented skills shortages, it is still difficult for apprentices to get on-site training. This paradox is down to the structure of the modern construction industry. Short-term contracts, sub-contracting and self-employment offer flexibility in delivering construction projects, and they have grown substantially over the last 20 years, but they provide a poor business case for investment in skills. In Scotland and the North of England, self-employment accounts for some 30% of the workforce; in the South of England and London self-employment accounts for 70%-80%. In Scotland and the North we can place 6-7 apprentices per 100 workers; in London we are lucky if we can place 1 per 100. Indeed, with a few notable exceptions, London is currently a desert for craft apprenticeships.

Lack of opportunities to practise on site is the catch 22 that scuppers many well-intentioned training initiatives. You can teach knowledge but, as Tiger Woods shows, it takes lots of practice to attain a skill. There are many thousands of young people studying full-time at FE Colleges without an employer. They cannot get site experience, so they cannot get an NVQ or complete a framework apprenticeship. Many of them leave the industry or just start work not properly trained or qualified. This is a particular problem for young women and people from visible ethnic minorities.

The strategy that we are adopting in our ConstructionSkills Sector Skills Agreement is to focus on major construction projects – which is why the Olympics could be such a successful construction solution and hopefully there will be contractual requirements for training and skills cards. We have been working to build agreements with the supply chains, so that they can place youngsters with subcontractors. They can then get the work experience to practise what they have been taught and become competent and qualified on the job. We are also piloting a new Programme Led Pathways Apprenticeships approach whereby successful first year full-time students can be given a second year on major construction sites to get the site experience to become qualified with an NVQ. And we are still delivering almost 10,000 traditional apprenticeships across the UK every year, with one of the best framework completion rates in the business. Incidentally, we don’t need that Programme Led Pathways approach in Scotland, because many more normal apprenticeships are undertaken there, with employer commitment.

Yet training is not just an issue for those people who come new to the industry. We estimate that within the industry itself, around half a million workers currently have no qualification at Vocational Qualification Level 2, or a similar equivalent. In order to continue to raise the standard of the industry as a whole and ensure that everyone within construction has a career path to follow, continuous training and up-skilling will be vital for those already in the industry.

Many of you will already be familiar with the On-Site Assessment and Training programme – or OSAT, as it’s known. For experienced workers in the sector who have not yet gained an NVQ, OSAT enables them to gain one in six to twelve months without having to go back to college. By visiting workers on site, trained assessors can find out what skills they already have and develop an action plan to fill any gaps – without workers having to take time off. Thousands of people have been helped to gain qualifications through this route already, and we have ambitious targets for the initiative going forward.

UCATT’s commitment, like that of CITB-ConstructionSkills, to safety on site, is tremendous. It is encouraging that 300,000 people every year now sit the CITB-ConstructionSkills Health and Safety Test. This is achieving good results on many levels, but we must always be looking at ways to improve and adapt. For example, the construction industry, like many others, has seen an increase in the use of migrant labour to plug skills gaps. This has been intensified by the eastwards expansion of the European Union. In order to ensure this doesn’t dilute our hard-fought safety improvements, CITB-ConstructionSkills has worked with the Department of Education and Skills, and the Learning and Skills Council, to provide translators for foreign workers taking the construction Health and Safety test. The test and revision booklets are available in 10 languages. In addition, a project is underway to map European qualifications against UK National Occupational Standards. This effective integration of migrant workers is, I’m pleased to announce, an area of work where ConstructionSkills and UCATT will be working in partnership in the near future. This will involve the production of an ‘intercultural awareness’ toolkit, supplemented by training, so UCATT Union Learning Representatives and mentors can play a crucial role in ensuring that migrant labour is working safely, and in harmony, with others on site.

However, the work that we do amongst smaller, local businesses is at the heart of making the industry a better, safer place to work. Last year, we gave out a record £137million in CITB Grant to support companies of all sizes who want to invest in training their staff. Whether it’s putting construction workers through the industry standard Health & Safety Test; up-skilling employees to NVQ Level 2 or beyond; taking on an apprentice; working towards an Investors in People accreditation; or even training senior management in the skills needed to run and expand a business, there is a wide variety of support out there for companies wishing to get ahead of the game by ensuring they have a fully trained workforce.

CITB-ConstructionSkills will always see training as an essential part of any competent company’s business plan. That is why it encourages and supports Investors in People, and over 600 construction businesses are now registered as IiP, including CITB-ConstructionSkills itself, compared with 100 in 1999. It is also why CITB-ConstructionSkills has rolled out the Training Plan initiative, which invites employers to move away from box ticking to giving real thought and involvement to how their company allocates resources to training. Obviously, UCATT has a real role here to encourage employers to embark upon a training plan. CITB-ConstructionSkills can help with advice and grant aid. In that regard, I continually stress as Chair of CITB-ConstructionSkills that we must do all we can to outreach to small and medium-sized companies. Indeed, one of our key targets under the Sector Skills Agreement is increasing the number of SMEs investing in training by 300%.

Most CITB-ConstructionSkills firms in scope are small or very small. The boss is usually on site, or out looking for more work. He or she doesn’t have a Corporate Affairs Director, a Human Resources Manager, or a Director of Training, which large building companies like mine do have. So, we aim to make literature and advice from CITB-ConstructionSkills simple, direct, eye-catching and brief. The boss of small or very small firms will only read it in the kitchen or at breakfast or at home in the evening before tea or watching TV. We aim to get his or her attention so he or she doesn’t throw it in the bin along with junk mail. It will improve their businesses and help them to attract grants, which they might otherwise not know about or think about claiming. To support this aim we have been running a high profile and eye catching training campaign aimed at smaller businesses for the last two years, and will be launching the 2006 version soon.

Another way in which we are looking to tackle the industry’s skills and training needs is through the creation of the National Skills Academy for Construction.

The National Skills Academy for Construction is an exciting new development. CITB-ConstructionSkills look forward to working with UCATT to take the scheme forward, The emphasis will be on creating apprenticeships for local people and building a strong, safe and highly competent workforce on the foundations laid by the excellent training facilities already in place at the National Construction College

The National Construction College has five campuses around the country and runs courses covering everything from Health and Safety and Plant Operations to graduate appreciation. Through the College, in partnership with employers, industry and funding bodies, we train adults and offer apprenticeships to young people who want to start a career in construction.

Unlike the National Construction College, the National Skills Academy for Construction won’t be ‘bricks and mortar’! It will consist of on-site training centres that will be based on major construction projects around the country. These centres will deliver customized training to respond to the specific needs of each project and will be supported by regional and national networks of best-practice, expertise and skills intelligence.

This modern, flexible and dynamic approach will enable training to be delivered to workers in a highly effective and work-based manner and will ensure the industry in turn is seen as modern, flexible and dynamic.

We are proud that ConstructionSkills’ plans for a skills academy won Government endorsement last year. We are now working towards a launch in September 2006. We are currently working in partnership with companies, such as Kier Partnership Homes, Bovis Lend Lease and Carillion to develop the new training centres, with an initial focus on the construction of London’s Olympic facilities and regenerating Liverpool in time for its role as City of Culture. We are currently exploring ways for UCATT to play an active role in both of these Academy projects.

But the best facilities in the world are no use without the right kind of students. For some years now, we’ve been running the hugely successful Positive Image publicity campaign, designed to show the construction industry as a career of choice and not just a job. Of late, the campaign has adapted its focus to attract women and those from black and minority ethnic groups into the industry – aiming to communicate the benefits of a construction career to those most discouraged by its image of “blokes, bums and bricks”, and bring graduate-level recruits into the industry.

The campaign has included everything from interactive TV adverts to posters in Miss Selfridge changing rooms, and we’re already starting to see the impact in terms of the interest in construction as a career amongst young people.

In addition, we are also looking to encourage graduate level recruits from all backgrounds by setting up a £1m fund to help undergraduates on construction courses. The Inspire Scholarships offer around 60 students a year up to £9,000 to help fund their studies, as well as providing scholars with on-site experience. They have proved to be a great success, with our first wave of students already embarking on their studies. Indeed, applications to construction-related degree courses soared this year, with acceptances up by over 18%.

In the wider community, we have developed a step into construction programme, known as STEP, whereby we pay employers to give local people and under-represented groups a work trial period so they can demonstrate their worth. We are also looking to expand on our successful Sustainable Training for Sustainable Construction joint initiative with the Housing Forum, which trains and qualifies local people on local housing refurbishment projects. This initiative is something that we are particularly proud of, as we believe that the process of building the infrastructure to your own lives in your own communities is a significant driver of social cohesion and pride in local communities.


However, as the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry, we also know that the sector cannot work in isolation. In order to attract and train new recruits, and ensure the up-skilling of the existing workforce, we need the support of the school and further education sectors to encourage people to consider construction as a career. We need training providers and funders to ensure that the right courses are available to meet the needs of the industry. We need committed clients, to ensure that decisions about construction contracts are not just made on the basis of lowest possible price; and we need local and national government to support all of these aims. And unions such as UCATT have a vital role to encourage take-up of training opportunities, and act as a voice of the industry. That’s why I’m delighted to say that we will be working together on a range of jointly branded materials that Union Learning Representatives can use with construction workers to promote lifelong learning and the routes to qualifications.

Through ensuring that everyone with an influence on the industry is working towards the same goals, and that those construction businesses and organisations who wish to invest in training and skills are supported and rewarded, we hope to be able to address the industry’s skills needs now and in the future and thereby create an industry with a reputation for high-quality performance and effective project delivery.

That can only be achieved in modern Britain by partnership. It needs clients, consultants, contractors, sub-contractors, suppliers and everyone else, in conjunction with trade unions and their members, working together, not separately. We are all working towards the same goal – a well-qualified and diverse industry that is successful and therefore paying well; which is safe, expanding and providing secure work for a lifetime with good career opportunities.

CITB-ConstructionSkills cannot do the work itself. It does not build. What it does do is act as a vital facilitator to help make these things happen. This is a great and historic industry, but one that is changing rapidly, requiring new skills and a fresh outlook. The trade unions have played and still very much play, a crucial role. We have come a long way since UCATT’s predecessor trade unions began in 1827, but we still have some distance to go to ensure that all sites in the industry measure up to the best. CITB-ConstructionSkills helps. But at the end of the day, delivery is up to the employers and the workforce. We must remember that we are all also clients – in our homes, schools, hospitals, or in whatever building we may be in – and we must always demand that the industry serves us all. If we who work in the industry do not want the best and seek to get it, we can hardly be surprised if we have problems recruiting young people and encouraging them to play a full part.

After all, we are real producers, adding real value. This industry has, quite literally, built Britain. The projects we undertake in the future will build the future of this country, leaving a legacy of which to be proud. Long after we are all gone, people will be building. Our job now, in 2006, is to see that we recruit and train a workforce that will be world leaders in construction in 2030. And perhaps we - by which I mean England, or Scotland, or Wales, or Northern Ireland - will have won the World Cup again by then too! Well, we can but hope!

Thank you all for your support, and every success to your conference and to UCATT’s work this year and in the future.

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