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ConstructionSkills Open Meeting speech by

Sir Michael Latham, Chairman

Length: 10 minutes (13:40)

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome you to Vinopolis for the 2008 ConstructionSkills Open Meeting and for what I know will be a lively and thought provoking afternoon. Last year, which was our first such meeting, was generally thought to be useful and successful by those who attended.

It is particularly good to see such a cross section of people from the industry here today. In this room are industry leaders from all four nations, together with government representatives, contractors, consultancies, education and training providers, federations and professional institutions.

This afternoon gives us a tremendous opportunity to debate some of the issues that we face as an industry. We need to share our vision for the future together – whether that is from a craft or professional perspective – and to make our views heard to both Government, the wider industry and our nation as a whole.

We have some distinguished guests with us today. I am particularly delighted to welcome the Skills Minister, David Lammy MP, who will share some interesting insights about Government strategic policy and direction with us later this afternoon. The Minister has always taken a close interest in ConstructionSkills, for which we are most grateful.

I am also pleased to welcome, Sunand Prasad President of RIBA, Susan Anderson, Director of HR Policy at the CBI, Rt. Hon Nick Raynsford MP, Chairman of the Construction Industry Council, Allan McMullen, Chief Executive of CITB-Northern Ireland, as well as our colleagues from Scotland and Wales.

This time last year, at our Open Meeting at Carthusian Court, I shared some thoughts with colleagues which outlined the challenges of the year ahead and looked forward with a degree of expectancy to an exciting year.

One year on and the political and economic landscape has shifted significantly. We are operating in a very different environment and we need to take account of that and reshape our plans for the future.

Let me give just a few examples. Recently, the Government announced that they will expand apprenticeships and will provide a National Apprenticeship Service and more is being done to widen participation in Higher Education. This is a welcome move, as it will give more young people the opportunity to enter this important industry, at a time when we needs many more recruits.

We also appear to be entering a period of economic uncertainty and this is being felt first in the house building sector. However, the annual Construction Skills Network report shows that much of the construction industry remains buoyant. The report was released earlier this year. It highlights that employment levels in our industry will need to increase by 7% between now and 2012.

There are 7,500 significant new construction projects in the pipeline, to the value of £190billion, and the Government has committed to a £16billion building programme for schools, hospitals and roads over the next four years. This means that we need to find 88,400 new people every year for the next five years. More specifically, we need 30,670 professionals every year — that’s 153,350 over five years, and 57,720 craft people — that’s 288,600 new crafts people over five years. This is a challenge we must meet and it is a requirement for us all.

I will come to our priorities for the year a little later. First, I think it is important to reflect on some of the things that we have achieved in the past year.

There are too many high points to cover in this arena, and you can find out more about what we did and what we achieved last year in the Progress and Plans publication, which is in your delegate packs. But I will pick out a few highlights which, as Chairman of ConstructionSkills, gave me some satisfaction last year.

In just 12 months we signed up 1,000 construction employers, covering more than 60,000 employees, to the Skills Pledge. We matched 300 undergraduates with employers through our Inspire Scholarship scheme and we received funding to help offset the costs of studying for their construction and built environment courses.

We helped 48,000 experienced workers to achieve a Vocational Qualification through on-site assessment and training routes. We helped 420,000 people to pass the ConstructionSkills Heath & Safety Test - bringing the industry total to over 1.5m; and we secured £17m in funding from the Learning and Skills Council to redevelop our National Construction College at our Bircham Newton site in Norfolk.

The redevelopment of our Norfolk site will help us to provide a state of the art learning environment for specialist training and the Constructionarium will provide training for professionals, so that we can produce job ready graduates to enter the industry. I am delighted to say that the Constructionarium is already very popular with universities and their students.

Our partners also enjoyed success. CITB-Northern Ireland signed up 50 professionals to its Construction Ambassador programme, The Construction Industry Council continued to generate interest in their very successful professional coaching scheme, which increases the recruitment of school leavers into the Built Environment Sector by encouraging volunteers to run monthly sessions in schools over the academic year.

ConstructionSkills Wales offered help and advice to 122 companies – as part of their partnership with Construct Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government and Scotland expanded the LearnDirect and Build Partnership – bringing together 6 colleges with universities to provide online and mobile technology learning solutions for the construction industry.

I know that everyone in our partner organisation the Construction Industry Council were very pleased to see their Chief Executive, Graeme Watts, recognised in HM The Queen’s New Years Honours list. Graeme was presented with an OBE for his services to our industry. This was a well deserved honour and I am sure you will join me in congratulating Graeme on his great achievement over very many years with CIC.

These are all notable successes, but we cannot rest on our laurels – there is still much to do and we must continually adapt and change to continue to meet the needs of our industry.

Already, we have revised our Sector Skills Agreements so that we respond to the needs of our industry. For example, we already know that we need to pay particular attention to Lifelong leaning and together with our partners we will seek to do more this year to strengthen our industry over continual upgrading of skills and education.

As part of our priorities this year, we aim to establish at least 15 National Skills Academy projects, including facilities on key Olympic sites. We want to achieve 1,625 Specialist Vocational Qualifications through the National Accredited Centre and we want to attract 13,400 new trainees to apprenticeship programmes across all four nations.

From a professional perspective, it is important that we continue to develop our Professional Coaching Scheme with the Construction Industry Council so that we can engage undergraduates and graduates in other UK regions.

Building and maintaining our partnerships is key to our success and especially so in this changing marketplace. If we are to achieve our collective ambition of transforming one of the biggest industries in the UK, we need to work together, listen to each other and to industry employers and to our colleagues in the Trade Unions.

Building relationships has been a key task for Peter Lobban, the Chief Executive of CITB-ConstructionSkills and the ConstructionSkills partnership for the last ten years. It is fitting that I talk so much about our changing landscape today, since at the end of August, after 10 years’ service, Peter will be retiring.

This is the end of a chapter in our long history, but Peter leaves us a great legacy. His excellent leadership, hard work and dedication have helped us to establish ConstructionSkills as an exemplar Sector Skills Council and I would like to extend my personal thanks for all he has contributed in the past decade. He and I have worked together for over six years, and I have greatly appreciated his wise counsel, advice and leadership.

But for this year, this is where our hard work starts. We will host a number of roundtable discussions this afternoon and we want you to tell our facilitators what you think about our priorities and what you think we need to do to move forward. Your opinions matter to us, so please speak up and make yourself heard. We absolutely need your thoughts, advice and, where necessary, criticism or suggested alteration of our priorities and vision.

Before we move on to this interesting debate – I would like to introduce Skills Minister, David Lammy. I know that he will give us an insight into Government policy making and highlight some of the areas in development this year.

Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to our Minister, David Lammy.

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