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The future is rosy for construction

AGENDA Viewpoint

The next 10 years will be exciting and challenging, writes David Boyden

THERE has been so much talk about skills shortages and a potential downturn in the economy that you could be forgiven for thinking that the industry is in serious trouble.

But that is not true ? in fact we are at the beginning of a hugely interesting and dynamic time.

The industry has grown over 30 per cent in the last 10 years both in terms of revenue and workforce, and the next five years are set to remain buoyant.

For a start, there are a number of iconic projects, including the 2012 Olympic construction schemes and the redevelopment of the Thames Gateway, as well as the bread-and-butter projects such as the ongoing Office of the Deputy Prime Minster's housing strategy.

This is great news for entrants to the industry but does come with challenges:

The latest Skills

Foresight report from CITBConstructionSkills indicates that over 88,000 people need to join the industry every year until 2008 to meet current demand;

There is the need to ensure the workforce is fully qualified and to provide employers with the right skills at the right time;

There is a need to recruit the right calibre of students ? including minority groups, who are underrepresented in the industry.

But as an industry we are working hard to address these issues through a number of ground-breaking initiatives. For example, in the past few years we have taken a long, hard look at the way in which we can deliver training that is practical, relevant and timely.

As a result we have made training as f lexible and accessible as possible, with the introduction of initiatives such as On-Site Assessment and Training by CITBConstructionSkills, which has proved very effective on large projects such as T5.

The skills academies will also be instrumental in delivering effective training going forward.

One of the biggest training challenges is trying to instil a life-long learning ethos. The National Construction College runs a series of hands-on, 'dirtyboots appreciation courses' to give graduates joining the industry from non-construction related degrees on-site experience, as well as senior management courses to help equip managers with business skills as well as craft and technical skills.

It is also worth highlighting that the working environment is safer now than it has ever been, thanks, in part, to the introduction of the Construction Skills Certification Scheme and the Construction Health and Safety Test. Industry accident figures remain high but, with continuous improvement and 100 per cent CSCS-carded sites, we are moving in the right direction.

But we all need to play our part in encouraging the next generation of workers to join this fantastic and diverse industry. And that includes people from a variety of different academic disciplines, as well as women and men from black and Asian backgrounds.

There could not be a better time to start, not only because of the iconic projects under way in the UK, but also because many of the traditional barriers to the industry are being eradicated as more and more employers understand the benefits of employing a diverse workforce. And we all need to start spreading the word now to help secure the industry for tomorrow.

David Boyden is director of the National Construction College