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Sir Michael Latham speech – welcome address (6-7 mins)

Good morning ladies and gentlemen and a warm welcome to the Mermaid Centre. I’m extremely pleased to see so many of you here today to help us celebrate the success of our flagship Inspire Scholarship scheme.

It also gives me great pleasure to welcome the winner of the first ever Inspire Scholarships work placement competition, Jonathan Fletcher. Jonathan was awarded a scholarship in 2005 and undertook a work placement with Allerdale Borough Council in the Summer. His essay demonstrates a real appreciation of what his chosen career as a Building Surveyor would entail and he has obviously used his work placement to gain as much knowledge as possible to help him with his career development. We certainly hope that he will be spreading the word among his friends that construction can be a fascinating and challenging industry to work in and that there is a multitude of career options available for talented students.

Paul Sykes, recruitment manager for ConstructionSkills, will shortly explain some more about Inspire, how it works and how students and employers can be a part of it in the future. He will also tell you a bit more about Jonathan’s essay and why it stood out to us as a winning entry.

Before he does that though, I’d like to take this opportunity to set the scene with the background and context of the Inspire Scholarships scheme.

Back in 2005, talk of skills shortages in the construction industry was widespread. Although still a major issue today, we have made serious inroads to address this problem with initiatives like Inspire which tackles, in particular, the problem of skills shortages in the management and professional ranks. It was designed to reverse the decline in the number of young people starting construction related degree courses seen in the 90’s. For instance, back in 1994 around twelve and half thousand applied for construction related degree courses, but this had dropped massively to around 8,000 by 2001. And although 65% of professional services consultancies are still experiencing difficulties in recruiting appropriately skilled staff, we have now seen a rise in the number of young people applying, indeed, last year saw 11,000 opt for construction related degrees – so we must continue to work hard to see this trend continue over the coming years.

Many of you here will know exactly how the Inspire Scholarship scheme works. However, for the benefit of those who don’t, I’d like to talk you briefly through the basic premise behind it and the advantages of signing up.

There is fierce competition for talented young people, so construction has to make itself an attractive proposition. In this age of tuition fees, top-up fees, and student loans, which are increasing the financial burden of going to university, money worries are creating a barrier between some of our brightest students and higher education. This in turn may put some of those students off even applying to university in the first place. Inspire Scholarships are one of very few ways in which undergraduates can obtain extra funding as an incentive to choose construction and to help break down this barrier. And crucially, Inspire offers funding which does not need to be paid back. We want construction to be an industry in which students see employers invest in them from day one. A sum of up to £9,000 is available to those who successfully apply for an Inspire Scholarship with half of this grant coming from ConstructionSkills and the other half being provided by the sponsoring company. Scholars are carefully matched with relevant employers and are then provided with an invaluable opportunity to undertake a ten-week work placement with their sponsoring company in their summer break.

If the student is sufficiently challenged and offered opportunities to gain a real insight into the industry, the Scholarship can result in huge rewards for both parties. The sponsor company can get to know the student and may even consider employing them full time on completion of their degree, saving them the time and hassle of a lengthy and costly graduate recruitment drive. The Scholar will also be able to by-pass the time-consuming job application process and start their career with a company which has a vested interest in his or her future. In fact, this has already happened with one of our Scholar/employer pairings: G&J Seddon recently made an offer of permanent employment to their first ever Inspire Scholar, Will Paul, which he has taken up and, by all accounts, is thoroughly enjoying!

Nevertheless, I make no bones about it, supporting a student through the Inspire Scholarship scheme means commitment. The sponsoring company needs to be fully dedicated to supporting and nurturing young talent, providing their Scholar with a real experience of what our industry is all about and helping them to become work-ready.

Finally, I would like to add that we rely heavily on existing supporters of the scheme to spread the word about how it works and how it can benefit similar businesses. There is nothing more reliable than hearing it from a fellow employer and we would really appreciate your help to get more like-minded companies on board with the scheme. This year, we have had a phenomenal response to our student marketing drive with over 200 completed applications already submitted and another thousand in the pipeline. We do not want to be in a position of having to turn down applications from some of our brightest candidates due to a lack of adequate industry support. So please, I urge those of you who are already part of the Scheme to speak to those who aren’t and encourage them to make this investment in both the future of young, talented people and in our industry that is crying out for them. And don’t forget the business benefits of taking on talented and eager new recruits…

There will be two more presentations given this morning, firstly by Paul Sykes and secondly by Peter Lobban, Chief Executive of CITB-ConstructionSkills. After that, we will move to the River Room for lunch and an opportunity to talk to colleagues and our students. This is a perfect chance to meet fellow professionals and hear directly from those students who have already benefited from the scheme, so do make the most of it. Those delegates participating in our respective employer and student focus groups will return to the studio and Miles Room before we finish at half past three.

I do hope you find this a useful day. I would now like to hand over to Paul for more of an in-depth look at how the scheme works and to take a closer look at Jonathan’s prize winning essay.

Thank you.

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