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Diploma is short cut to skills

A new qualification for 14 to 19-year-olds promises to revolutionise industry training

The industry has a new qualification which hopefully will go some way to providing new blood for the £190 billion-worth of construction projects due to start between now and 2011.

An estimated 88,000 new entrants are needed in the industry each year for the next five years. The Construction and the Built Environment Diploma is to roll out this September, with places for up to 4,000 pupils covering three tiers.

It is aimed at 14 to 19-year-olds and is part of the Government’s push to improve secondary and further education. Four other diplomas for different industries will also begin this year with 17 planned by 2011, so construction is a priority.

In a speech last month to industry experts Sir Michael Latham said: “This is the best -opportunity that we have ever had to shape 14 to 19-year-olds’ education and ensure that young people are educated about our industries and can learn the skills that we are looking for.”

The diplomas are designed to prepare people for work and will include theory and practice.

Around 40 groups of schools, colleges, training providers and employers have formed to run the diploma, with more than double that number getting involved to run the September 2009 intake. More than 12,000 pupils will be on the course by autumn next year.

Bruce Boughton, people development manager at Lovell, has been seconded to ConstructionSkills part-time to oversee employer engagement and give feedback to the Government.

“The biggest concern is the need to get lots of employers on board. A few big companies are not engaging with the need to bring others in. The numbers will ratchet up between now and 2012, so everyone will have to be involved,” he says.

He hopes that he can get the operations as well as the training side of his business taking part. The company already takes on 40 apprentices and 30 management trainees a year.

Regional appeal

Roy Cavanagh, chair of the C&BE employer champions group, urges SMEs to get involved.

He is meeting with firms regionally to brief them on the diploma and has arranged for a business in each area to explain how they engage with schools or colleges and how this benefits them.

But he understands the difficulties involved with running a small business and helping trainees at the same time.

“If you are an SME it can be difficult because a project can last three months or three years. In their defence, they’ve got a wage to earn. But you’ve got to give students help,” he says.

He understands that employers may not always find it easy to set up work placements - or ‘work engagement’ as he prefers to call it - because of concerns over insurance and other issues.

“Speak to your insurance company and induct students properly with PPE, then it’s a great opportunity for them. Who do we learn from? You’ve got to be willing to give back to the next generation,” he says.

Chris Simpson, education liaison adviser at Wates, also encourages smaller firms to get involved, but knows they may not be used to working with schools or colleges.

“The will is there. They need to feel happy walking into schools. The first thing I do is find out who is delivering it and go and meet them. I suggest a site visit and say they should come back to me. The ones that do are genuinely interested,” he says.

He also suggests forming links with other employers to provide work placements or site visits so that the burden does not rest with one small firm.

A concern with some qualifications is whether they prepare pupils fully for the world of work, so it must be clear to employers what is in it for them.

The aim is that the diploma will help this and give employers the chance to enter schools.

Improved understanding

Mr Cavanagh explains that employers can expect students to have better knowledge.

“I think that one of the complaints is that when youngsters come to an interview they are not very well prepared. They might not know about solving problems. I think that the diploma’s strength is communicating and problem solving,” he says.

Mr Simpson adds: “The industry needs to engage to ensure that young people come in.”

The uptake of the diploma is yet to be announced but Mr Cavanagh hopes that most of the two lower levels will be filled.

Mr Boughton encourages employers to provide whatever involvement they can.

He says: “It’s important that more employers come on board. It’s always the usual suspects but we want to get everyone.”

For more details contact ConstructionSkills or your local authority. The diploma is part of the wider Construction Qualification Strategy.

What does the diploma cover?

Roy Cavanagh says: “It’s a major step for education and construction. We have to remember that it’s called the Construction and the Built Environment diploma. It’s easy to just call it construction but it’s not.”

The three levels break down as follows:

  • Foundation. Equivalent to five GCSEs grade A* to G
    Includes factors to be considered in the design process and solution, the role of planning, sustainability, the properties of materials, what jobs are available, safety, hand tools, practical craft, mechanisation, maintenance of the built environment, lifecycle, building defects, modern and traditional techniques and the impact of construction methods.

  • Higher. Equivalent to seven GCSEs grade A* to C
    As above but also utilities, technical information, manufacture, preparation and securing of materials, structures and components, alternative design solutions, buildability, substructure, superstructure, external works, safe working legislation, and the property market.

  • Advanced. Worth 3.5 A levels grade A* to E
    Also includes architectural styles, political policies, growth and recession, impact on the community, urban design, planning regulations, energy sources, health and safety data, recycling, renewable energy, modern methods, project management, building protection and social benefits.

See for full curriculum details

ConstructionSkills Nick Gooderson on The Construction Qualification Strategy

The Construction Qualification Strategy (CQS) will help develop a highly-trained, world-class workforce to make companies more competitive, productive and profitable. It sets out a new structure for qualifications, developed by the industry for the industry.

The construction industry is already a leader in training and development - more than 1,000 construction firms in England have already committed to improving employees’ basic skills by signing up to the Government’s Skills Pledge. The CQS will help us take this desire to improve skills and qualifications to the next level.

In developing the CQS, ConstructionSkills worked with exam regulators, awarding bodies and manufacturers to look at skills and qualifications across the board. We spent two years consulting with firms and stakeholders to ensure the new strategy represented their needs. This revealed firms were:

• Fed up with workers having qualifications that didn’t help the day to day work of the business

• Frustrated they had to supervise colleagues because they didn’t have the right skills

• Concerned young people were coming to the industry poorly prepared for work and lacking the basic expected skills

Addressing these concerns was central to developing the CQS and we’ve developed action plans to look at some twenty strands of work to do this. The strategy will constantly evolve to meet the changing needs of the sector at all levels and will provide a basis for future qualification planning and development, giving firms support to expand and improve business and workers the skills needed to do the job.


In response to employers’ calls for the broadening of apprenticeships, we’re looking at initiatives where apprentices can study important skills such as estimating and planning, as well as related subjects such as fibrous and solid plastering, broadening their skills base and increasing their employability.

We’re also working with a range of bodies to pilot the new Apprenticeship Diploma, which integrates all of the existing apprenticeship components into one. In addition, we’ve established 16 specialist apprenticeships - bespoke but flexible programmes which meet the resource needs of specialist contractors, manufacturers and federations.

These developments aim to improve apprenticeship completion rates, reduce registration and qualification costs and make it easier for employers, learners, and their parents, to understand them.

The Diploma

The Construction and the Built Environment Diploma was developed in conjunction with industry and launches in England in September. As well as achieving a minimum standard of Maths, English and ICT, students will complete a project and periods of work experience ensuring we have better skilled entrants to the workforce.

Other initiatives

ConstructionSkills is working with Higher Education to help fund a hands-on construction experience for undergraduate students and young professionals – Construcitonarium – which helps them put theory into practice and build bridges with industry.

Reviewing the current list of qualifications has seen the list of qualifications reduce from 3,000 to 500, ensuring that only the most effective remain. We’re also looking at where gaps exist and working with industry to develop new qualifications we need – such as in Innovative Methods of Construction.

To make these easier to understand, 2008 will see the launch of an online qualifications database enabling learners to instantly find the qualification or pathway they need to take to achieve their goals.

We’re also implementing new ways of delivering qualifications that fit the industry better. For example the one-day Experienced Workers Practical Assessment, developed and awarded by Construction Awards Alliance, enables people with a lot of experience but no formal qualification to obtain NVQs.

The Construction Qualification Strategy will simplify and improve qualifications in our sector, improving their relevance and making them easier for students and employers to understand. It will provide the answer to qualifications and skills questions, and help the sector best meet the challenges that lie ahead of us.

For more information go to

Nick Gooderson, is head of standards at ConstructionSkills