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CITB devolution could offer solutions to ongoing debates

CITB Northern Ireland has always operated autonomously from CITB GB and seems to have taken on a distinct personality that enjoys a much better reputation in the province.

Much like the rest of the country, the Northern Ireland construction sector suffers from a chronic skills shortage, which is further accentuated by an ongoing ‘brain drain’ of talent to either Britain or southern Ireland. This skills deficit has been a barrier to the nascent revival within the industry, which, although now rebounding, remains considerably below its pre-recession peak.

Tackling the skills challenge has not been helped by Northern Ireland’s tendency to slip into periods of political paralysis, another of which is imminent after the collapse of the government. It’s against this challenging backdrop that CITB NI has offered a stabilising presence.

Welcome measures

CITB NI has done a solid job in remaining reactive to the needs of industry. Led by a board of industry, employee and educational representatives, its structure and ethos has been geared towards collaboration.

In the past year, CITB NI has introduced training in the areas of supervisors and leadership as a result of industry demand, and implemented a vital programme to develop future leaders in construction that has proved enormously popular. A ‘qualifying the experienced workforce’ programme will also deliver 1,600 Level 2 qualifications to the industry without cost to employers.

“At a time of great debate over the future of CITB GB, there is a model CITB that is clearly working with the support of and praise from the businesses it serves”

These initiatives were not created in a vacuum. They were developed as a result of a culture of collaboration and partnership with industry that CITB NI has been proactive in cultivating, whether it’s with representative organisations like the Federation of Master Builders, or directly with SME contractors.

Many of the business owners I meet speak positively about the relevance of the training on offer in Northern Ireland. Members also report that securing funding for such training is relatively uncomplicated.

Clear contrast

This is surely a key measure of success for any industry training body and it is as clear an endorsement as any of CITB NI’s effectiveness. It certainly contrasts markedly with the perception of the CITB that often appears elsewhere in the UK.

This is not say that devolution presents a one-size-fits-all solution. The Northern Irish construction sector as a whole is overwhelmingly made up of smaller firms, which allows our CITB board to tailor its offering more to focus on the needs of these firms.

However, it is interesting that, at a time of great debate over the future of CITB GB, there is a model CITB that is clearly working with support and praise from the businesses it serves.

Gavin McGuire is Northern Ireland director at the Federation of Master Builders

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