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Building skills for tomorrow

31 Jan 23 How the construction industry is responding to its recruitment challenges.

The SWAP initiative with BMet college offers trainees a pathway out of unemployment
The SWAP initiative with BMet college offers trainees a pathway out of unemployment

One of the biggest challenges facing the UK construction industry is a chronic shortage of skills. With its perennial image problem and an ageing workforce, the industry needs more than ever to attract new recruits from schools and universities. But the growing urgency is not being ignored. Contractors, FE colleges and the government itself are pulling together to recruit and train the next generation of construction professionals. Here we look at some of the initiatives launched during the past year, or so, designed to ensure the UK construction has the skills it needs to grow.

Training from the ground up

Civil engineering contractor Carey Group launched two new initiatives in 2022 to train the next generation of groundworkers.

Under a three-year partnership with Milton Keynes College, Carey’s Milton Keynes office has been transformed into a training campus with the ground floor now dedicated to providing a groundworker apprenticeship for  local students.

And in Sutton Coldfield, Careys has teamed up with BMet College to launch a groundworks Sector-based Work Academy Programme (SWAP) for those receiving unemployment benefits and hoping to pursue a career in construction.

Milton Keynes College is using the open-plan ground floor meeting rooms at Carey’s site for classroom tuition while all practical work is carried out in the yard to the rear of the building. Careys will continue to use the offices on the first floor of the building.

The Level 2 groundworker apprenticeship, which takes 15 months to complete, provides students with a range of skills that include:
• The principles of health, safety, welfare and environmentally responsible work practices
• Basic principles of Building Information Modelling (BIM)
• Locating and excavating buried utility services, with and without electronic location instrument
• Providing temporary works including excavation support
• The basic principles of internal and external drainage & ducting systems
• Installation and testing of basic drainage and ducting
• The placing, compacting and finishing of concrete to slabs and bases, footing     oversights and paths, and the formation of slab edgings including positioning reinforcement and kerbs
• Setting out and laying flags, paviors and edging to paths, driveways and other areas
• Installation of ironworks relating to access covers and frames, and gully grates and frames including preparatory brickwork.


In addition to the groundworks students, the campus is also home to the Anglian Water alliance full time pre-apprenticeship, a year-long training programme designed to provide students with core skills and prepare them for a guaranteed apprenticeship interview upon completion of the course.

As part of the partnership, Careys provides curriculum development assistance to ensure the college’s delivery of the course reflects the needs and requirements of the industry.
“Construction is suffering from a shortage of skilled workers–currently some 40,000 vacancies across the industry; the highest figure since 2001, and we also have an ageing workforce,” said Careys Midland regional director, Tom Wraight. “The groundworker course provides a brilliant opportunity to nurture and develop the next generation of skilled workers addressing an industry-wide problem.”

The SWAP initiative with BMet college offers trainees a pathway out of unemployment and into a career in the construction industry. It is a three-week course designed to equip students with a range of skills including health & safety, manual handling and the safe use of tools, and paving, slabbing and drainage all on an extensive purpose-built outdoor construction site. 

Trainees will qualify for their CSCS card and receive coaching in employability elements including a mock interview and help in compiling a CV. At the end of the course, the students are guaranteed a job interview for groundworks vacancies with Careys.

Delivery of the Groundworks SWAP will be carried out from a brand new, purpose-built site at James Watt College located in Great Barr, Birmingham.

Launched by the government in 2013, the Sector-based Work Academy Programme helps businesses to create a skilled workforce. It is available in England and Scotland and is administered by Jobcentre Plus for the Department for Work & Pensions. Placements are designed to help meet immediate and future recruitment needs as well as to recruit a workforce with the right skills to sustain and grow a business. Placements are particularly useful for young people but are open to all jobseekers aged 18 upwards. 

This article was first published in the January 2023 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.


Retrofit for the future

Jobseekers and tradespeople with an interest in creating a more sustainable and low-carbon future can now get a recognised qualification at City College, Plymouth. 

The college has joined forces with The Retrofit Academy, a Staffordshire-based training provider, registered in 2016, specialising in the training of retrofit coordinators. This is a new role introduced by the British Standards Institution via PAS 2035, a framework for the application of energy retrofit measures to existing buildings in the UK and provision of best practices for their implementation.  

The City College academy is the first dedicated facility, created in partnership with the Retrofit Academy, to offer a new Level 2 qualification for retrofit professionals.

The Level 2 award will support those already working in construction, such as plasterers, heating engineers and carpenters, who would like to acquire specific retrofit skills. It is also suitable for those wishing to join the industry with no previous construction experience. 

Dan Burnard, programme area manager for construction at City College, said: “Retrofit is generating a new wave of exciting career opportunities and through this membership we will not only be offering people the chance to learn essential skills vital for this industry, but we will be providing them with an overall understanding of the sector, setting out the wide variety of options they will have. 

“Even working at the current building regulations level, we are still not carbon neutral. We are set to be retrofitting new builds within five years,” added Burnard. 

“To future-proof houses and minimise climate change we are going to need to retrofit one house every minute in the next 25 years to meet the carbon targets of 2050. Academies such as this one are key to ensuring we have enough people to meet these targets.”

The Retrofit Academy at City College is part of the government’s Skills Bootcamp initiative, which means those who are self-employed, or unemployed, can complete a Level 2 award in domestic retrofit entirely free of charge.

City College’s Retrofit Academy was officially launched at the end of November and the Green Construction Skills Bootcamp will run its first course in the coming weeks. Employers wishing to enrol staff on the course  will be asked to contribute 10% of the costs if they have fewer than 250 employees, while companies with 250 or more employees will be asked to pay 30% of the training costs. 

This article was first published in the January 2023 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.


Growth in engineering apprenticeships ‘a step in the right direction’

Engineering-related apprenticeship starts increased at a greater rate in 2022 than all sector subject areas, according to analysis by Engineering UK.

The independent not-for-profit organisation has delved into the latest apprenticeship data from the Department for Education and calculated that engineering apprenticeships increase by 25.8% on 2020/21, compared to an 8.6% increase across all sector subject areas. 
However, engineering-related apprenticeship starts are still down by 5.5% from 2018/19, and down by 12.3% since 2016/17. 

Beatrice Barleon, head of policy & public affairs at Engineering UK, described the findings as “a step in the right direction – with a positive uptick in apprenticeships starts as we emerge from the pandemic. 

“Given the acute skills shortage and the pressing need for more engineers to support the UK’s net zero ambitions, it’s particularly encouraging to see the engineering and technology sector is ahead of others in attracting people into its fold.  

"However, to meet future skills needs projections, we need to see exponential growth of apprenticeships starts – and finishes – in the engineering sector, particularly in areas such as construction. 

“Technicians will be particularly vital in making the UK a leading economic power in low carbon technology and we must ensure that we have enough people skilled to fulfil these roles,” said Barleon.  

She added: "Importantly, the data also suggests that more needs to be done to enable younger people to enter the engineering sector via the apprenticeship route, with Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships still in decline compared to higher level apprenticeships. Improving the system must focus on growth across all levels of apprenticeships if we are to successfully address current and future skills shortages.” 

This article was first published in the January 2023 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.


East Kent development gets its own training centre 

Canterbury-based mixed-use developer Quinn Estates has donated £1.2m to East Kent skills provider EKC Group to build a new civil engineering training centre near the village of Hersden, east of the city.

The new centre will cater for around 300 students working towards their CSCS certifications and full-time civil engineering apprenticeships. The 3,000sqft facility includes a series of outdoor stations where students can develop skills including drainage and bricklaying. Inside there are classrooms, offices and other facilities.

Quinn Estates has funded the project in its entirety, including a £400,000 section 106 obligation. The centre is part of Quinn’s Hoplands Park development, an ambitious village extension covering 70 acres and including a new 35-acre park, 250 new homes and community facilities.

Mark Quinn, CEO and chairman of Quinn Estates, said: “We are delighted to be able to launch this fantastic new facility for East Kent, providing hundreds of students each year with the transferable skills they will need to thrive in the construction and engineering industries.

“With all the developments we create, leaving a positive community legacy is at the heart of what we do and our development in Hersden is no exception.”

Graham Razey, chief executive of EKC Group, added: “As a group we are committed to addressing skills gaps and ensuring businesses have the talented employees they need to thrive, so we’re proud to launch this fantastic new training centre today. The centre will support employers in the civil engineering sector, enabling them to access the skilled staff they need to continue to flourish and grow. 

“Today marks the culmination of a lot of hard work over a number of years, and we are very appreciative of what Quinn Estates has done in delivering our new centre. It is important to recognise the massive social impact that this will have, giving young people the opportunity to build great careers in a growing sector.” 

This article was first published in the January 2023 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.

HS2 grows its own plant operators

Contractors working on the HS2 project in Buckinghamshire are offering free plant operator training for local novices.

The purpose-built plant operator training centre, on HS2’s A422 Brackley Road compound in Westbury, Bucks, is run by Flannery Plant Hire in  cooperation with EKFB, the joint venture of Eiffage, Kier, Ferrovial Construction and Bam Nuttall.

They claim that they can get someone off the streets and onto site in just two weeks.
Westbury is Flannery’s second Operator Skills Hub; it also has one in Sutton Coldfield that it set up last year in conjunction with Balfour Beatty.

The Operator Skills Hub offers a two-week ‘skills bootcamp’ in plant operations
The Operator Skills Hub offers a two-week ‘skills bootcamp’ in plant operations

Flannery has funding from the Department for Education to deliver a range of training programmes, including its two-week ‘skills bootcamp’ in plant operations, which is free to local residents over the age of 19 and provides all the accreditation needed to start work as a plant operator.

EKFB is building an 80km section of HS2 between the Chiltern Tunnel and Long Itchington Wood in Warwickshire. EKFB programme director Emmanuel Rossigno said: “We will need thousands of skilled plant operatives to help build the new railway and Flannery, EKFB and HS2 are providing an opportunity for people to be part of this once in a lifetime project, as well as equipping them with desirable transferable skills for the future.”

Jhen-Nel Swanston, HS2’s skills manager for the region, said: “The new Operator Skills Hub will allow local residents, and those who are out of work, to access free training and develop skills for life, which they can quickly put to use in well-paid jobs in the immediate area.

“We have an extensive construction programme ahead of us and shortage of skilled plant operatives from the local area, which means our construction partners and their contractors are offering long-term opportunities with fantastic career development.” 

This article was first published in the January 2023 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.


QTS on track for more rail training


QTS Training, the specialist skills division of rail contractor QTS Group, has opened a new training facility in Knottingley, West Yorkshire.

The new facility is QTS Training’s third English training centre, joining existing centres at Leeds and Linby in Nottinhamshire, as well as a fourth training centre in Drumclog, South Lanarkshire.

The Knottingley centre will offer training in railway safety, small plant & tools, first aid and health & safety.

QTS Group specialises in railway work, offering a range of services including vegetation management, electrification, drainage, earthworks, geotechnical and fencing.

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QTS Training managing director Lorna Gibson (pictured, left) said: “The demand for training within the rail industry has never been higher, so we felt this was the perfect time to expand our offering within the north of England. 

“This dedicated training centre offers the space, both inside and out, to be able to run all our railway safety critical courses, as well as courses in health & safety, first aid and mental health first aid,” she added. 

The new centre has classroom facilities for up to 18 trainees and QTS has plans to add two more classrooms. The Knottingley location also has outdoor facilities including an external track panel that will be used to run personal track safety courses, as well as the small plant & tools training. 

This article was first published in the January 2023 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.


Morgan Sindall joins STEM platform

Morgan Sindall has become the first UK contractor to partner with Developing Experts, an education platform that aims to change the way children learn how science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects apply to the world of work. 

Developing Experts provides more than 6,500 schools with a continually growing resource of more than 1,000 interactive lessons with embedded experiments, handouts, assessments and links to industry and career opportunities. Its resources are mapped against multiple curricula, including the science national curriculum for Key Stages 1, 2 and 3. 

The initiative is designed to change the way children learn how STEM subjects apply to the world of work
The initiative is designed to change the way children learn how STEM subjects apply to the world of work

Morgan Sindall is joining other organisations including Network Rail, Rolls Royce SMR, Oxford University and government departments in becoming a Developing Experts partner.   

As part of this collaboration, Morgan Sindall is developing a bespoke set of lessons that reflect the range of careers available in construction and help children, teachers and parents better understand how construction relates to their everyday lives.  

The curriculum will incorporate Morgan Sindall’s ongoing partnership with the Carbon Literacy Project with lessons on the role that individuals, and the construction industry, can play in protecting the planet for future generations. 

Pat Boyle, managing director at Morgan Sindall Construction, said: “This partnership is all about helping to get young people excited about the built environment and, as they progress into secondary school, to open their eyes to the opportunities available to them in a wide variety of careers. 

“Those of us who work in the industry know how rewarding it can be when we see buildings come to life, and we want to inspire young people to get interested and involved.” He added: “With Developing Experts, we want to address the preconceptions that can stop people entering our industry, and ensure the next generation has a more rounded view of the built environment.”

Developing Experts’ founding director and chief executive, Sarah Mintey, said: "The team at Developing Experts is delighted to be working with Morgan Sindall Construction, its first construction firm to be featured in its science lessons. The world of construction offers so many opportunities to young people so to feature careers from one of the UK's leading brands is exciting." 

This article was first published in the January 2023 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.


Opportunities for Cornish constructors

The Mace Ward Williams joint venture (MWJV) is helping young people in Cornwall start careers in construction through a programme of apprenticeships and work placements.

The joint venture, between Mace and property consultant Ward Williams Associates (WWA) is working for Cornwall Council on its Built Environment Professional Services Framework, which includes a range of public sector construction and infrastructure programmes.

In the year to February 2022, MWJV welcomed 15 new apprentices, facilitated 16 work placements and delivered 45 careers events to help inspire the next generation of construction professionals.

Tom Rees-Senior, project manager of the Boscawen Park Town Deal project (l) with placement student Tobi Crowther
Tom Rees-Senior, project manager of the Boscawen Park Town Deal project (l) with placement student Tobi Crowther

The newest recruit, 17-year-old Tobi Crowther, began his T Level apprenticeship in November with WWA in Truro as part of his Design, Surveying and Planning course at Truro & Penwith College. 

“I’m still very new to the team but am having a great time getting stuck in on some practical projects to help support my classroom learning,” said Tobi.

“The large-scale community projects like the Boscawen Park development as part of Truro Town Deal with MWJV have been really interesting and exciting to get involved in. It's great to work on something that I will actually see and take advantage of as a local,” he added.

In January 2023, trainee Sam Currell will join MWJV as a Level 7 quantity surveying apprentice, putting his maths degree to good use. WWA will be sponsoring his continued education in the form of a master's degree. 

This article was first published in the January 2023 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.


DfE ramps up industry-to-education recruitment drive

Research from the Department for Education (DfE) has revealed that more than half of adults in England (52%) would consider developing a portfolio career, blending two or more roles into their working week. But that figure rises to 80% for those working in construction.

The study followed the launch of a DfE campaign last year to encourage skilled workers to pass on their experience by teaching in further education (FE). The campaign promotes the flexibility of teaching part-time in FE as a way of allowing workers to “change lives without changing careers”.

The DfE says that many workers already have what it takes to teach in FE given the value and transferability of their existing industry experience and skills. But it reckons that 61% of people in construction experience ‘imposter syndrome’ and lack the confidence to make the leap into FE.

With full-time, part-time and ad-hoc roles available (and no academic degree or prior teaching qualifications needed to get started) teaching in FE provides a way to develop a portfolio career. Many skilled industry workers do not realise that they are  already qualified to jump straight into teaching.

The government’s FE Teacher Recruitment Campaign is therefore hoping to empower industry workers to overcome these confidence barriers by sharing the stories of industry professionals who  have taken their practical ‘real world’ experience and applied it in learning environments, giving inspiring, relevant and practical context to students. 

Independent careers consultant Helen Tupper, who is working with the campaign, said: “Portfolio careers create a lot of potential for people’s development and so many already possess the skills they need to get started. Teaching in further education is a great way you can share the skills you have gained in industry and enable you to take on a new challenge without changing your career.” 

• If you want to learn more about how to develop a portfolio career by teaching in further education, visit: gov.uk/teach-in-further-education 

This article was first published in the January 2023 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.


Home hub for house-building hopefuls

New-home warranty and insurance provider the NHBC has opened a new training hub to develop the next generation of house-builders in the northeast.

Located at The Rise, house-builder Keepmoat’s development in Scotswood, Newcastle upon Tyne, the facility has the capacity to train more than 100 apprentices each year in a ‘real-life’ environment alongside to the main regeneration site.

The Scotswood hub is the NHBC’s second dedicated training facility
The Scotswood hub is the NHBC’s second dedicated training facility

The NHBC training hub has been built in partnership with Keepmoat, New Tyne West Development Company (NTWDC), Newcastle City Council and North of Tyne Combined Authority. It was officially opened on Thursday 1st December 2022.

The Scotswood hub is the NHBC’s second dedicated training facility; the first was opened in Tamworth in 2021. NHBC said that they form part of its commitment to support the next generation of house-builders and equip them with the skills to build ‘high quality new homes’.

The scheme will train apprentices all year round with numerous cohort intakes throughout the year.

Speaking at the opening, NHBC commercial director David Campbell said: “Our training hubs provide a realistic work environment where we can deliver an accelerated, front loaded, block release, homebuilding focused, bricklaying apprenticeship. Open to all house-builders and their supply chain in the area, we look forward to doing our bit in tackling the skills shortage and equipping apprentices with the skills to build high quality new homes.” 

This article was first published in the January 2023 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.


New initiative causes disruption – in a good way

Industry champion Construction Excellence South West (CESW) has launched what it says is the first-ever diploma in ‘collaboration in construction’.

The organisation has formed a partnership with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) to deliver a programme that aims to equip students with the tools to “positively disrupt” traditional ways of working in the construction industry.

During an online 10-month programme, the Level 5 diploma explores what individuals need to ensure that a collaborative culture is adopted within construction.

Those taking part will not only study the principles of collaboration and integration in construction but will also benefit from networking with like-minded peers, studying technology-led approaches and learning about new modes of behaviour.

CESW chief executive Andrew Carpenter said: “The need for collaborative work within the UK construction industry has never been greater. With the economy expected to go into recession the need for our sector to adopt lean principles is essential and to be able to do this we must embrace collaboration.

Following a pilot project last year, the new programme will welcome 12 new delegates in January 2023.  

This article was first published in the January 2023 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.

Construction students get off-site experience

Wirral Met College has partnered with modular off-site housing manufacturer Starship Group to give students an opportunity to develop skills in manufacture and construction, both on site and on-campus.

Starship, which describes itself a ‘net zero’ modular housing manufacturer, has relocated its entire operation to the Wirral where it has set up a factory in Wirral Waters, a brownfield regeneration scheme by the Peel Group. 

(l-r) Karl Ventre, managing director Starship Build, Richard Maudsley, director of development for Peel L&P’s Wirral Waters, Sue Higginson, principal Wirral Met College and Dave Dargan, managing director Starship Group.
(l-r) Karl Ventre, managing director Starship Build, Richard Maudsley, director of development for Peel L&P’s Wirral Waters, Sue Higginson, principal Wirral Met College and Dave Dargan, managing director Starship Group.

The partnership aims to deliver high-quality curriculum, work placements, on-site visits and masterclasses from modular off-site specialists. 

Sue Higginson, principal of Wirral Met College said: “This partnership will enable our students to build their knowledge of cutting-edge zero carbon technology. It truly aligns us within the green skills agenda and will be embedded within our construction curriculum.

“We look forward to working with Starship and seeing our students gain the skills they need to be at the forefront of modern construction technologies.”  

This article was first published in the January 2023 issue of The Construction Index Magazine. Sign up online.

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