At 6.4 per cent of GDP and growing, the success of our sector is crucial to the economy. Employing some 2.6m people, we provide the vital infrastructure to keep the country functioning.
But one thing is sure: there will continue to be skills and productivity gaps in the construction sector, regardless of there being a hard, soft or in-between Brexit, or how many migrant workers return home.
“Trailblazer apprenticeship reform and the new levy will be high on most people’s agendas”
So what are the options open to construction employers in recruiting the workforce they need, other than bringing people into the UK to fill the gaps?
Firstly we need to clearly define the career pathways that will produce the operatives, craftspersons, technicians, professionals and management we need.
From this analysis, we can then establish what apprenticeships and qualifications are necessary and how these will come together to support career pathways; recognising that we need to have more than one pathway for each ‘job role’, thus supporting social mobility, fairness, respect and equality, diversity and inclusion.
Trailblazer apprenticeship reform and the new levy will be high on most people’s agendas. This replaces the ‘old’ SASE apprenticeships and NVQ qualifications which the industry has grown used to.
The new Apprenticeship Standards, when they are available, together with the T-levels planned for 2020 onwards, will provide completely new career paths for our professional and technical workforce.
At present, there is only a limited number of the new standards ready for use, but work is in hand on the larger operative, craftspersons, technical and professional roles.
It is important in the development of these new standards that we build in construction site safety as well as new ways of working, new materials, greater use of IT and offsite manufacture; all of which will be designed to increase productivity as well as deliver other economic benefits such as energy conservation.
Over the next few years industry will be forced to adopt new standards as the government closes the old SASE apprenticeships and qualifications. Before this happens, employers will need to amend the existing qualifications in response to immediate needs, as well as retain qualifications where there are no new Trailblazers or T-levels.
T-levels at Level 3
The government has also published its plan for T-levels at Level 3, which will come in from 2020 to 2024. These will also need to embody site safety and all the new ways of working needed for the apprenticeships.
For Level 3 this will give, if well designed, a good foundation for higher education or higher / degree apprenticeships for our future technicians and professionals.
Disappointingly, they will not help to produce our operatives nor crafts; neither will they do anything for social inclusion. We need to urgently persuade government that Level 2s must also be included in the plan, while supporting Level 1s and English and maths.
So how do we ensure these changes work for us? We don’t want to be stuck with what people outside the industry think we need.
The best way is for employers and all other parties supporting skills development to work together to make it a success.
Graham Hasting-Evans is group managing director at NOCN Group