“Crisis, what crisis?”
That was the opening slide of Paul Morrell’s powerpoint as he presented at the Construction Industry Council’s morning briefing yesterday.
But whether you consider it a skills crisis or, as Mr Morrell prefers, a “chronic” problem, there is one thing for sure: UK construction needs to produce more trained people.
So the question remains: how can the industry make this happen? Can the CITB help with this? And does the industry even need a CITB?
These are among the questions being pondered by the former chief construction adviser as part of his review into the future shape of the UK’s industrial training boards.
He was candid in his own views about the future of the CITB and how it was perceived in some sections of the industry, describing it as the “designated scapegoat”.
And in a year that has seen major firms slapped with a new government apprenticeship levy, grumblings appear to have got louder.
You don’t have to go too far to hear cries that it is too bureaucratic and poor value for money, or to find those who simply feel companies can train better on their own.
So far this year the CITB has combated this with a reduced levy rate, a reformed grant system and moves to improve its communication with the industry.
Mr Morrell acknowledged these changes, and clearly has a personal belief that there is a future for a reformed CITB – while emphasising that decisions on the review will be taken by the next government.
A major trimming down of what the training body actually does could be a good start.
But Mr Morrell believes it is not just about changing the CITB, but also the industry changing the way it views the CITB.
“There is a perceived imbalance between payment and return; we have to break free of that pay in, pay out attitude,” he said.
To address skills gaps, the industry needs to identify the market failures behind them and work together to provide the resources to solve them.
After all, Mr Morrell pointed out, isn’t that what the CITB was set up for?
He believes it is about spreading skill resources from those areas and companies that ‘have’ to those that ‘have not’.
“The industry needs to step up and work together,” Mr Morrell said. “Too often I hear those in the industry say, ‘Who, me? Not my problem,’ when it comes to skills.”
And to do this it will need strong leadership, something Mr Morrell believes could be provided by the Construction Leadership Council, ably assisted by the CITB as well as other industry groups.
“It’s an opportunity on a plate for [the CLC].”
The government’s review has now been knocked back until after the election; the fallout from the result could cause further delays.
It seems that, while Mr Morrell’s review will be about changing the CITB, it will also be a call to arms for the industry to change, come together and step up collectively to tackle the skills gap.
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