In all honesty, Kevin Minton must have hoped for an easier honeymoon period following his appointment as CPA chief executive.
For a start, he was following on from the hugely respected and popular Colin Wood, a man who was credited with increasing the CPA’s influence, membership and financial strength during his tenure in the post.
But add into the mix skills shortages, growing environmental pressures, accelerating technological developments plus the political vacuum that is Brexit, and Minton might have been forgiven for wondering what he had got himself into.
On the upside, he knows both the industry and the CPA well. He joined the association over a decade ago and has long been instrumental in promoting the safe and healthy use of construction plant.
And he says his new role is made simpler by the clear messages that he and his colleagues receive from the CPA’s 1,600 or so members.
“In a way, the story has been the same for some time,” Minton says. “The central issues are good cooperation across the supply chain in two areas - operational and safety standards, and long-term workforce and skills development.”
“At least, this is what we are being told by our members so far, although as we develop our dialogue with our members and the industry there may be other things that come to the surface.”
Improved dialogue with the membership is a theme that Minton often returns to.
For the moment, however, addressing his members’ concerns about training and skills shortages is a subject right at the top of his in-tray.
“We are looking at a looming crisis in a few years’ time – five years rather than ten,” Minton continues.
“The workforce is ageing, the situation is potentially being exacerbated by Brexit, and we are not attracting sufficient numbers of young people.”
On Brexit he is careful not to overstate the concerns. But he says that while over the whole sector the number of non-UK passport holders is not a large number, on certain major projects there is a high proportion.
In the face of such issues, he says, the CPA’s role has to change. “Our strategy is moving us away from just looking at standards to a more strategic role.
“To be blunt, if we – the CPA – do not take the lead role for our sector in making sure that we have plenty of plant operators in 5-10 years’ time, no-one else is going to do it for us.
“So we are taking a broad approach; looking at what we need to do ourselves; where we need to be working with other people and what we would be better off leaving for others to do.”
One example is the CPA’s commitment to helping the industry develop new ‘trailblazer’ apprenticeships, and to getting the buy-in of main contactors and clients.
“If we are at a skills show, we want to be able to say – when young people and their parents gaze in amazement at some massive piece of construction machinery – ‘yes, if you want to work with this there is an apprenticeship available, whether for a plant operator, a plant mechanic or for hire desk control’.
“For mums and dads that is key.”
But this is not something the plant hire companies can deliver on their own. They need the support of their clients.
Minton adds: “The trouble is our employer members say they need to put the apprentices to work to gain the experience and also for them to pay their way. But their customers – the contractors – do not want to have apprentices on site because they are not very productive and they need supervision.
“That is the pinch-point. We want contactors and their clients to make provision for apprentices on site with the appropriate levels of supervision, and for the site managers and supervisors to be geared up to deal with this.”
Minton thinks this is just one example where the industry would benefit hugely from more joined-up collective thinking – and why the CPA needs a good relationship with other organisations, such as the Construction Leadership Council, Build UK, CECA, CIOB, IMechE and so on.
“We are not just talking about plant operators and plant mechanics here,” he says. “Collectively, we need to be able to say to young people ‘come and work in construction, we have an apprenticeship for you’.”
Despite his concerns and the need for close cooperation with main contactors and clients, the trailblazer apprenticeships are moving ahead well.
Trailblazer apprenticeships were first launched by the government back in 2013. Under the rules, employers can form a consortium and create a ‘trailblazer development group’ to set standards for a specific occupation.
The group should consist of at least 10 employers, including two small employers (with fewer than 50 employees) representing the sector SMEs, and be chaired by one of the employers.
The group’s role is to develop the standards setting out the skills, knowledge and competencies required for the occupation, as well as the end-point assessment criteria to ensure the apprentice is ‘job-ready’ at the end of their training.
The apprenticeship standard usually requires at least 12 months of rigorous training with 20% of that time allocated to ‘off-the-job’ training.
In the plant-hire sector, the CPA provides support to employer development groups for four trailblazers.
The new apprenticeship for ‘Hire Controller’ was approved in December 2018 and, at the time of writing, is about to be officially launched.
Those for ‘Construction Equipment Operative’ and ‘Construction Equipment Maintenance Engineer’ are currently in development, while the fourth trailblazer, for ‘Lifting Technician’, was approved in 2017.
Alongside this work, the CPA is developing a new workforce and skills strategy and has also triggered the current debate about the need to align the different plant card schemes in construction.
Construction employers have long been concerned that the plethora of card schemes creates confusion. Earlier this year the CPA hosted a series of open meetings around the country to encourage a national discussion about the issue.
The aim of each meeting was to discuss how card schemes will meet employers’ needs in the future, particularly with new schemes coming into the sector.
The issue reflects ongoing attempts to align training and qualifications in many sectors throughout Europe.
One recent example is the plan by ESTA – the European Association for Abnormal Road Transport and Mobile Cranes – to create a ‘European Crane Operators Licence’.
ESTA – whose members include the CPA through its Crane Interest Group – started work on the scheme response to clients’ concerns at the huge variance between crane operator licences in different EU countries.
In the UK, the certification debate was given greater impetus by recent changes in the construction sector, notably the Construction Industry Training Board’s decision to sell the CPCS card scheme to the qualification awarding organisation NOCN Group.
Minton is optimistic that the change will be a positive move – while maintaining the CPA’s strong support for the CPCS.
“All card schemes should be constantly looking at themselves to make sure they are as good as they can be. We have an opportunity now with CPCS to make a shift in that direction.
“Of course, and to be clear, we remain closely involved with CPCS because many of our members have CPCS employees, the majority of the equipment that is owned by our members will be operated by CPCS card carriers. Our membership and CPCS are inextricably wedded together.
“But is NOCN taking over CPCS a good thing? Yes, it is because it creates the opportunity for this industry to have better influence over the effectiveness of the scheme,” insists Minton.
Underpinning all of this work on skills and training are broader concerns that the CPA remains as close as possible to its membership and has the best possible understanding of the industry it serves.
The CPA chief executive is clear that his organisation should be able to develop a better model of the sector that it is representing.
“As an industry, we simply do not have enough detailed information. For example, right now, if you asked me how exactly how many employees we have in the sector, I would not know. Is that a good position for me to be in? I don’t think it is.
“Better information will help us develop the right policies and help support any lobbying we want to do.”
The lack of information was underlined in 2016 by a report from the CITB – the Construction Skills Network Forecast 2017-2021 – which, based on data from the Office for National Statistics, estimated that there were 40,000 plant operatives in the UK.
Research commissioned by the CPA put the total at 290,000, a figure regarded by the industry as more realistic, especially as the CPCS scheme alone has about 180,000 operators on its books.
The drive for better information also encompasses the CPA’s own members.
Minton continued: “My clear priorities for the CPA are to make sure that the organisation is fit for the modern world and fit for the needs of our members.
“To that end, we are investing in the team and investing in our processes and structures. Two examples are the recruitment of our policy manager, Chris Cassley, and the work we are doing on our database and communication methods.
“Chris spent 16 years at the CBI where, amongst other areas, he was responsible for construction policy. For us, he is responsible for the development of, and lobbying on, the key policy issues that are important to CPA members.”
Minton accepts that the work on the database may seem dull but believes it has the potential to transform the way the CPA communicates with its members.
“I want us to be able to communicate more effectively with the people that are in the companies rather than just the companies themselves on a corporate level, as it were.
“For example, I want to be able to send the transport manager all of the stuff that he or she will be interested in – and also stop sending them the stuff they don’t want.
“Such an approach also means that this becomes more of a two-way conversation with our members – and without that I will not feel confident that we are meeting our members’ needs.”
He stresses that without such an approach, the organisation runs the risk of simply responding to those voices that are shouting the loudest.
“We can’t fix everyone’s problems. But when we have the opportunity to organise a collective solution to a common problem, that is what we should do.”
And that is going to mean the CPA making its voice heard ever more clearly along the construction supply chain.
“Changes in the training landscape mean that CPA will be much more proactive, and much more in control of the agenda than we have been in the past.
“We have been saying, ‘we need to be control of this ourselves’.”
He adds: “To be honest, we have not had that much contact with some of the industry’s organisations to date. But the future is going to be about much more coordinated, joined-up working – to me that is hugely important.”
Watch this space.
CPA - what it does, and why
The Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) is the leading trade association for the plant-hire sector in the UK. The CPA has over 1,600 members who supply an estimated 85% of hired plant to the construction industry.
It works with government departments and agencies, local authorities, construction clients, private companies, other trade associations and third-sector organisations on issues including employee health and safety, machinery standards and emissions control, public safety and road transport, skills and employment.
The association also publishes an extensive range of guidance documents which are distributed widely throughout the construction industry and many are available for immediate free download from the CPA website at www.cpa.uk.net.
The CPA also supports a number of special interest groups, which tackle issues within their own sectors.
Stars of the Future Event expands
The CPA’s Stars of the Future is a well-established award scheme for trainees in the plant industry, and part of the organisation’s attempts to publicise the benefits of careers in the construction sector.
Each year, CPA gives prizes to a number of apprentices who are judged to be “Stars of the Future”. Apprentices and trainees become automatically eligible when they start their apprenticeship or training programme and awards entrants are assessed both on their work in college or with a training provider, and in their work environment.
The awards are intended to recognise and reward outstanding apprentices who not only bring ability and commitment to their learning and their work, but also possess those extra capabilities which mark them out as being not only the foundations of the future of the industry, but also potentially its future leaders.
The next event will take place on Wednesday 26th June 2019 at the Heart of England Conference Centre near Coventry.
Entry is open to plant mechanic apprentices and trainees and there are separate prize schemes for Level 2 and for Level 3 awards.
In addition, this year sees new categories for lifting technicians and plant operators to mark the availability of new trailblazer apprenticeships for these occupations.
This article was first published in the May 2019 issue of The Construction Index magazine