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Multi-skilled McMullen aims for grass roots

The Chartered Institute of Building has elected Allan McMullen as its new president.The chief executive of the Construction Industry Training Board in Northern Ireland is only the second Irish president in the CIOB's history. He talks to Joanna Booth

How did you get into construction?

My father was a builder in the little fishing village in County Down where I still live. I spent 20 years working my way up the family business, so there's not a job on site I haven't done.Work was very difficult for builders during the troubles.

I reached 40 and didn't want that type of life any more, so I joined the CITBNI, and went to university. I was promoted to chief executive in 1994.

What are your goals during your presidential term?

I want to focus on the people, and harness their skills and abilities to promote building. I want much greater involvement from the grass roots. It can be a difficult concept to sell to members, but there are areas outside committees where they can get involved. For instance, instead of sending someone from the CIOB staff to speak at universities, I'd like to send a local member, after helping them out with statistics, presentation skills and IT capabilities.There is a real keenness to get involved.When we advertised locally for members to sit on a CIOB interview panel more than 100 turned up. People want to put back into the industry.

Are there any issues specific to Northern Ireland that you will be highlighting?

We have more than 40,000 members worldwide, so I don't want to make Northern Ireland my focus.But there are issues here. It's a pity we don't have a devolved government in place.We need a politician driving construction. But we hope to embark on £16 billion-worth of strategic infrastructure investment over the next 10 years.There are projects of similar importance all over the place.The Olympics win is very exciting.

Do you have any qualms over the industry's ability to deliver the Olympics?

I have no fear that the UK industry has the capacity to build it.We have the benefit of lessons learned in Athens and Sydney.UK construction is very sophisticated. There's a lot of migrant labour coming in, which is a good thing, provided we make sure their competency equates to UK standards. I see the Olympics as a great opportunity to promote construction as a career.Those who build the facilities are as important as the athletes who later compete in them.

A CIOB study found that graduate numbers in construction were declining in 2003. Is this still so?

The trend has been reversed.With good pay, conditions and opportunities, young people will join.The CIOB started a course last year giving non-construction graduates the chance to tailor-make their current skills to our industry, which is going well.The section of a project spent on site is only part of the picture.The four UK nations are putting together a sector skills agreement setting down current needs, so we don't just get a knee-jerk reaction to big projects. Hopefully that will be in place by the end of the summer.