The body representing plant operators has raised serious concerns over the CITB’s forecasting, claiming reported workforce numbers for the sector are nearly seven times lower than the real figure.
Findings by the Construction and Plant-Hire Association found there were around 289,000 workers currently working as plant operators, well above the 42,260 listed in the CITB’s Construction Skills Network published in February.
The association said the underreporting could have a major impact on planning and provision set aside by the CITB for training plant operators and called on the training body to explain the discrepancy.
Construction and Plant-Hire Association director Kevin Minton said: “Instead of being low in the rankings of occupation by volume, we now have the evidence to show that plant operation as an occupation is one of the top five in construction.
“The underreporting remained unquestioned until we raised the query.
“It would be a big task, outside our control, to correct this, but we will suggest to the CITB that the Construction Skills Network report should explain the nature and significance of the published figures.
“Given the potential scale of the underreporting, this is essential for policy and planning purposes.”
The report by the plant body also reported that nearly half of all hire companies were finding recruitment challenging, while four in 10 workers in the sector were aged 45 or over, with fewer than one in 10 aged 24 or under.
More than 80 per cent of the companies that responded to the plant association’s survey said they did not currently employ any apprentices.
Mr Minton said the privatisation of the CITB’s headquarters at Bircham Newton could also have a significant impact on training and would need to be managed properly by the CITB.
Earlier this year CITB chief executive Sarah Beale said the training body would stay at its Bircham Newton HQ until 2020 but would put the college on the market this summer.
Mr Minton told Construction News: “This is an important facility for training our plant operators.
“If it is done properly it could arguably create a situation where the facility can do better in training up our workers than is done now.
“If it is done in a hurry and without thought, it could potentially have a really bad impact on our sector.”
The CITB acknowledged the discrepancy in numbers and said it now wanted to work with the Construction and Plant-Hire Association to get a more accurate number figure on plant operators.
CITB director of policy Steve Radley said: “We always want to ensure that we have the best possible evidence on skill needs in construction and that our industry buys into them.
“This is why the CITB has supported the CPA through funding this new report which directly addresses the issues around discrepancies in reporting the size of the sector.
“We now want to review the research and agree with the plant sector what is the most accurate figure.
“We also are determined to support the plant sector’s skills and recruitment challenges through our funding model – most recently allocating £162,000 to increase the supply of assessors in that sector.”