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Thu June 17 2021

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Self-employed face lock-out from public sector sites

11 Mar The Construction Leadership Council is working to get rid of self-employed construction workers from public sector projects by 2024.

Skills Plan front cover
Skills Plan front cover

The plan is to reduce self-employment in the construction industry by making direct employment a requirement in public procurement models.

A working group under the auspices of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) is developing recommendations for specific procurement reforms to mandate direct employment throughout the supply chain. The goal is that by the end of 2024 direct employment will be required throughout supply chains through pre-qualification questionnaires and tender criteria for public sector contracts.

The CLC says that its plan is "backed by industry and government".

The push for direct employment in an industry where close to half of operatives are self-employed (in some form or another) is a key element of a new industry skills plan, published today by the CLC.

The plan, called Industry Skills Plan for the UK Construction Sector 2021-25, makes it clear that businesses will be expected to make sacrifices for the greater good. It states: “We need to influence employer behaviours to balance individual employer ‘wants’ and broader industry-wide ‘needs’.”

It says: “This plan is a plan for industry, by industry … It provides an actionable, measurable blueprint for recruiting the right talent, training them to have the right skills, and ensuring that the sector as a whole is supported to develop and maintain the highest levels of competence. It is a plan that attempts to balance what businesses in the sector want with what the industry needs as a whole, now and in the future.”

It covers the range from diversity & inclusion to education & training to qualifications.

A set of new construction traineeship programmes and a pathway from further education into construction will be developed. New competence frameworks are to be developed.

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However, the industry will continue to struggle with recruitment with more direct employment, offering structured career paths, the CLC believes.

The skills plan says: “Research correlates the decline in trade apprenticeships with the growth in labour-only subcontracting and agency work. Self-employed workers have more accidents and poorer occupational and mental health outcomes. Secure employment is vital to attracting diverse talent, creating an inclusive culture and supporting social mobility. Direct employment delivers a highly-engaged, competent workforce, increased productivity and higher value.”

More than 60 local authorities across the UK have already banned the use of self-employed construction workers on their sites and properties, in theory at least, because they have signed Unite’s construction charter, and that is one of the charter commitments. However, the charter is self-policing and is thus more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

Before the pandemic, CITB forecast the need for an extra 40,000 workers per year in construction to address the known pipeline of work up to 2025. This need is partly generated by the rising age profile of the construction workforce. In addition, reduced access to EU migrant labour from January 2021 is expected to further increase industry’s domestic recruitment requirement. The impact of the pandemic and resulting recession has significantly reduced skills demand across industry. However, there will still be a 210,000+ recruitment requirement between 2021-2025, it is believed.

Mark Reynolds, chief executive of Mace and a CLC member, said: “This is the most ambitious and wide-ranging skills plan the construction sector has ever produced. It should have a far-reaching impact on how we attract, retain and develop people in construction and help deliver upon government’s home-building and infrastructure plans.

“Many of the challenges we address in this plan will require a shared commitment over years, so the hard work starts now to deliver real and lasting change for the benefit of the whole sector.”

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), rather than the Construction Leadership Council, would have taken the lead on initiatives like this in the past.  However, it is still very much involved. CITB chief executive Sarah Beale also chairs the CLC skills network. She said: “We now all need to get behind this plan, and support sector-wide initiatives such as the talent retention scheme, STEM ambassadors and the fairness, inclusion and respect programme. There’s no doubt that if this spirit of collaboration continues and this plan is delivered, industry will be much better able to attract new talent and meet upcoming skills and productivity challenges.”

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