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Standing here today in this new training centre really brings home to me why I am proud to be part of the construction industry. Yes, the buildings are modern and, yes, the facilities state-of-the art, but that alone is not what will make this centre a success. Rather, it will be the commitment of the people and partner organisations, to the industry’s goal of a fully qualified workforce.

Over the last 10 years the construction industry has undergone unprecedented growth. Across the UK, from Leeds to London, Edinburgh to Exeter, there are countless examples of construction projects that have transformed the built environment.

But more people joining the industry, and bigger sites working at faster-paces, have also brought new challenges to the industry, and reinforced the need for everyone to take health and safety, qualifications and continuous development seriously. 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.

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 ConstructionSkills’ own research, we know that we will need to recruit 87,000 people per year, all around the country, to ensure that we make this national regeneration programme a success.

We will need new people, committed people, talented people. We need a home grown workforce that helps to build not only a sustainable construction industry, but also sustainable communities – a lasting legacy of people with the skills to work in the construction industry and look after their own local environments.

Within our sector, we’ve been trying very hard to address these recruitment demands – starting by reaching people well before they start to make career choices. That’s why CITB-ConstructionSkills employs dedicated Education Teams all around the country, offering support to young people, careers advisors, parents and teachers on a local basis.

The benefits of the Education Team are particularly clear at times like National Construction Week – which is taking place as we speak – where young people have the opportunity to experience a wide-range of construction-based activity all around the country. This year, even more schools and young people are getting involved – whether by seeing construction in action by going out on site, or having one of our Construction Ambassadors, who are young and passionate advocates of the industry and working within it themselves, come into school to share that passion with others.

Through our Education Teams, we have contact with around 50% of secondary schools in the country, working closely with teachers to integrate construction and the built environment into the existing curriculum, and hopefully breaking down some of the false perceptions they may have.

The support we can offer includes everything from careers advice and industry placements for teachers to organising seminars, site visits and work experience – all in a way that supports the curriculum and engages young people through the challenges the industry faces every day. For example, an in-school activity might include trying to build the highest possible tower out of Lego blocks to a budget, or looking at the Civil Engineering needs of areas impacted by natural disaster – inspiring young people about the industry in a way that’s also highly beneficial to their learning.

For an older age group, we have already been central to the introduction of the new Construction and the Built Environment GCSE, which is being taught as a pilot in around 60 schools and colleges across England for the first time this academic year. This qualification aims to expose more young people to the range of opportunities offered by the construction industry. And it is reflective of the industry, with units in the technical and professional spheres, such as building design and surveying, as well as in craft occupations, and challenging issues such as sustainability are not options, but core modules. If successful, this will be rolled out across England in 2008.

But working through schools is not enough. For some years now, we’ve been running the award winning Positive Image publicity campaign, designed to show the construction industry as a career of choice and not just a job. The campaign has recently 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 outdated image - and bring graduate-level recruits into the industry. The campaign has included everything from TV adverts to developing games on young people’s websites to drive traffic to our dedicated construction careers website Bconstructive.

In addition, we are also looking to show those keen to go to university that construction has opportunities for them as well. The industry has many more roles than the more visible site-based trades. This drive is supported with a £1million sponsorship fund, launched by ConstructionSkills last year, to help undergraduates on construction and built environment degree courses. The Inspire Scholarships scheme offers students up to £9,000 over three years to help fund their studies, as well as providing scholars with work experience through partnerships with major employers. They have proved to be a great success. Our first wave of 60 students are already into their second year of studies. For 2006 entrants, we received over 700 applications – 50% more than in 2005 – and to date we have placed 100 students through 50 employers.

Thanks to the work of our education teams and campaigns like Positive Image and Inspire Scholarships, we are already starting to see the impact in terms of the interest amongst young people in construction as a career. Both apprenticeship and construction-related degree course applications are on the up.

It is also essential that we look beyond those entering the world of work for the first time. In the wider community, we have developed a STEP programme whereby we pay employers to give local people and under-represented groups a work trial period so they can demonstrate their abilities.

And we are expanding on our successful Sustainable Training for Sustainable Communities 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. We believe that the process of building the infrastructure for your own lives in your own communities is a significant driver of social cohesion and pride in local communities.

But our work doesn’t stop when we’ve made our efforts to attract new people. We undertake a wide range of activity with FE Colleges, in particular around qualification development and apprenticeships. As an organisation, we place around 10,000 apprentices every year with employers, ensuring that they are getting the vital on-site experience necessary to complete their qualification framework, as well as ongoing mentoring and support.

What’s more, as a Sector Skills Council, we work constantly to build relationships between the FE sector and employers to ensure that even more students can gain that practical experience. This involves innovative initiatives, looking at everything from course restructuring, to placing apprentices in the supply chain of major long-term projects. As a result, our apprenticeship framework completion rates are some of the best in the industry, and are getting better.

But 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.

Lack of opportunities to practice 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.

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. It is also encouraging that 300,000 people every year now sit the CITB-ConstructionSkills Health and Safety Test, and the most recent report from the Health and Safety Executive shows good improvements in the industry’s safety records – but we must always look for ways to improve.

We all have a responsibility to encourage new people into construction, and once they are there, to ensure that the incentives exist for them to stay. We need new graduates to engage with schools to educate young people about the career opportunities. We need colleges to offer specialist facilities for some of the new qualifications such as the Construction GCSE. And we need companies of all sizes to recognise the benefits of taking on apprentices or offering work placements for graduates, and of enabling experienced workers to get qualified.

The modern construction industry is a very different place. Today’s workforce can expect a career path, a good wage, the opportunity to travel and continually learn, and the chance to really leave their mark on their communities and built environment.

We must work together to make the goal of a fully qualified, professional construction workforce a reality. I wish you all the best success with this new training centre, and I look forward to hearing how you are contributing to this goal.

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