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Rt. Hon David Lammy MP

ConstructionSkills Open Meeting speech

13:50 (10 minutes)

When New York Magazine ran a ‘London Cool’ issue, they admitted that ‘If Paris was the capital of the nineteenth century and New York of the twentieth, London is shaping up to be the capital of the 21st’. Of course they talked about our fashion, our food and our financial services.

But more than anything, they saw a symbol of our success in our booming construction industry. The skyscraper has always been a symbol of success in the U.S.A and they pointed to the growing number of them here.

But it’s not only our skyline that is growing.

I was lucky to be in Trafalgar Square on that July afternoon when we heard Jacques Rogge announce the 2012 bid had gone to ‘Londres’ – an announcement that sent shares of British construction companies soaring.

Now, everyone’s shares have gone up and down a few times since then. But this is still a very exciting time for your industry, especially here in the Capital.

But without a skilled workforce, you won’t be able to seize the opportunities that are there to the full,

Education and Skills

When I got the call from Gordon Brown on the day of the reshuffle, asking me to be the minister for skills at the new department he was creating, I was excited. That’s because I know from my weekly constituency surgery in Tottenham what effect skills – or the lack of them – can have on people’s lives. It’s also right at the top of the Prime Minister’s agenda for how we can improve this country.

As the skills minister, what I want to see over the next year is more employers involved in Train to Gain and signing up to the Skills Pledge. More apprenticeships being offered and a greater diversity of the sort of people who take up placements.

The Construction Skills and the Apprenticeships Task force last year did some very good work on this. Apprenticeships are clearly essential to the construction trade and always have been – learning the skills required for steeplejacking, masonry, carpentry or bricklaying has never been something that you can read about in a text-book.

When I talk to apprentices themselves, I realise that most of them have been inspired by having relations or friends that have gone down the apprenticeship route. They’ve seen the self-respect and respect from other people that comes from having learned a skilled profession.

And that’s why we need to expand opportunities for apprenticeships to wider sections of society.

In the London boroughs, the take-up of apprenticeships remains shockingly low. And there’s still a gender divide that might’ve been considered acceptable forty years ago but is anything but today. I know that this is something that you are working on as an industry – last year 2,200 women entered the industry as part of the Women into Work project. But it’s something that we have to keep on chipping away at because these statistical trends represent lost opportunity for individuals and will lead to us losing ground economically, in the long run.

We need to tackle these issues early on – that’s why I’m pleased that you have been working with the Department for Children, Schools and Families to develop and deliver the Construction and Built Environment Diploma which launches this coming September.

Over the past year, I have seen a lot of progress in the development of skills for the construction industry.

There’s the Sector Skills agreement that Sir Michael Latham updated you on as well as the launch of the Sector Skills Agreement in Northern Ireland – something we’re very pleased about.

There’s the £21 million redevelopment of the National Construction College East – a flagship residential training facility and the largest of its kind in the world. I welcome the fact that the LSC is providing £17 million towards this project

And the whole industry is getting better at providing employer-led solutions – for example the National Skills Academy for Construction and employer engagement through the Cross Industry Construction Apprenticeship Task Force.

And I’m glad that we were able to accept Sandy Leitch’s recommendation to create a UK Commission for Employment and Skills – to ensure the UK's employment and skills systems contribute to the highest levels of productivity. The Commission will help to ensure that employers play a pivotal role in ensuring the UK’s employment and skills system responds to the needs of business and the public services.

I have been very impressed with the way that this industry has embraced the Skills Pledge.

Of the 2,130 employers covering 3.3 million people nationally who have committed to the skills pledge some 43 per cent are from the Construction sector. I look forward to seeing the number of construction employers committing to the pledge continue to increase in the future.


But there’s still much to do, and that’s the main thing we’re here today to talk about.

There’s the low take-up of apprenticeships in London, which I’ve already mentioned.

Then, as Sir Michael Latham said, there is a slowdown in house building, migration issues and skills challenges for home-grown talent. And as I mentioned earlier this is happening against a backdrop of financial uncertainty.

Today I want to say that while in the short term market conditions may be more challenging, by setting out our Government targets in the housing green paper of 2 million homes by 2016 and 3 million by 2020, we are showing that we’re absolutely committed to the need for more houses, and that should give homebuilders the confidence that they need to invest for the long-term.

Carbon-neutral Colleges

And my own department recently announced a £2.3 billion pound strategy to develop new low carbon colleges. Contracts will be required to spell out how they will deliver on-site apprenticeships and work-based learning. This is the first time in any major procurement programme companies that are paid to deliver the work, will be contractually obliged to invest in the skills and training needs of their staff. This will help to ensure that local people will benefit from new work opportunities.

It also demonstrates that we can lead by example by using more intelligent procurement practice for construction projects.


This year we want to work closely with ConstructionSkills to capitalise on the successes of 2007 and previous years and propel the UK construction industry to new heights on the world stage.

If anyone wants to know what part the construction industry can play in making our country better, all they have to do is walk out of this building and look around them at how Southwark’s changed over the last 20 years.

By embracing the skills challenge with the enthusiasm that it has done, the construction industry’s doing its bit to ensure that Britain as a whole will continue to reap the benefits of positive change in the next 20.

Thank you.

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