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Back the training with cash

Viewpoint

A system of training credits would help recruit people of all ages to the industry, argues Sid Patten

YOU KNOW how we all sit there of an evening flicking through the TV channels and ending up watching nothing? Well I found myself in this relaxed state the other evening but just happened to stop at a programme called Posh Plumbers, all about the apparently increasing move into plumbing by well-to-do but dissatisfied businessmen and women from the City.

It was fascinating.The lady running the training programmes for these would-be plumbers was inundated with applications from people in the professions and could have filled each training place 60 times over.

While there didn't seem to be any mention of full-blown apprenticeship schemes, it was as clear as the nose on your face that these people considered a career in construction more valuable and more meaningful than those they had pursued to date.

This sends some very interesting signals to the industry. A lot of good work has been done by trade organisations and training boards to improve the image of construction and, if the numbers now coming into the industry from school are anything to go by, those efforts have met with a fair degree of success.Last year nearly 7,000 young people expressed an interest in coming into construction.We might only have taken in something over 2,000 but that says more about the predictability of workload than the enthusiasm of the industry to get involved in training.

These people coming in via the 'posh plumber' route were, of course, of fairly mature years. I suppose, given their earlier career, they might have been in a position to afford the cost of training.

As for those without private means, for many years and in many parts of the industry we have had good, robust, adult training schemes ready to accommodate the unemployed or those who wanted to make a move from other employment.

But these schemes have had little success, not because employers or potential employees are not interested in them but due to the nature of the funding for adult apprentices.This Government and others has always been keen to get right behind apprenticeships for young people but it seems blinkered when it comes to providing support for the more mature among us.

I remember attending a consultation exercise conducted by the then Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee of the new Scottish Parliament and being impressed by one of the proposals that came out of that consultation. The members of that committee had recognised the problem of young people making the wrong decision to stay on at school for college or university placements only to find out too late that they were either never cut out to be what they had aspired to or that the opportunities just weren't there.The committee's idea was to relate training credits to each individual as they made their way through higher and further education and, if they found that they had made the wrong decision, they could carry forward their remaining training credits to more appropriate training programmes.That was over three years ago.The Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee is now the Enterprise and Culture Committee and none of the members of the former committee moved over to the new one. But we haven't let it go and will keep banging the table for the changes required.

In the meantime, if any middle managers in banking, PR or other industries would like to contact me, preferably carrying their training funding with them, I'll be pleased to point them in the direction of some welcoming employers.

Sid Patten is the chief executive of Scottish Building

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