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The Diploma is key to a brighter future

30 Sep 10 The Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment, which has been taught in schools and colleges since September 2008, is the perfect qualification to help the UK’s construction industry prepare for the future and to keep it at the cutting edge, says Nick Gooderson, Head of Education and Research at ConstructionSkills.

In August 2010, more than 350 bright, young students achieved the Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment (C&BE). Importantly, this first cohort of Diploma students has achieved a qualification which equips them with the knowledge and practical ability to do great things in an industry which is continually seeking to evolve and innovate. And in order to keep fresh talent of this ilk coming through, we need to ensure that the Diploma in C&BE has continued support from across the industry.

This is especially important because the future of the qualification has been the subject of some speculation following recent cuts in Government funding for Diploma Development Partnerships. Furthermore, the coalition Government has also been looking closely at alternative qualifications in this country and Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has suggested that vocational education “has lost its way” and that “the last Government presided over a pasteurised, homogenised, and bureaucratised hollowing-out of practical education”. With these factors in mind, we must be careful that the Diploma in C&BE, with its mix of vocational and academic components, is not unduly criticised and the benefits that it brings to the sector are not forgotten.

Certainly, many leading construction companies continue to support the qualification. One such Diploma devotee is industry stalwart GJ Seddon, who have already backed around 60 Diploma students throughout the North West. Along with Seddon’s, giants such as Wates and Balfour Beaty are also supporting the Diploma in C&BE to help develop skills that benefit both their own organisations, and the industry as a whole.

The Diploma in C&BE is a sophisticated and modern qualification, with its mix of academic and practical learning, capable of producing students who are ready to meet the challenges of today’s construction sector. In fact, in addition to the 350 Diploma achievers, 1,100 extra students also successfully completed the Principle Learning Qualification, which is a component of the Diploma and is, in itself, equivalent to five GCSEs at the Higher level and two A Levels at Advanced level. All of these young people will have picked up skills that mean they can ‘hit the ground running’.

But as well as producing work-ready individuals, the Diploma is also key to imparting knowledge to the next generation of workers. With new construction methods and technologies being developed at a rapid rate, it is crucial for individuals to learn these skills at an early stage of their careers. For instance, new developments in sustainability and low-carbon technology are two areas that the UK needs to be at the forefront of over the next few years, and the Diploma provides opportunities to give 14-19 year olds a solid grounding in these fields.

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However, it is also important to remember that the Diploma is still very much in its infancy, compared to more established GCSEs and A Levels, and it would be naive not to acknowledge the areas that still need some refinement. Some detractors argue that the structure of it is too complicated, and this is certainly something that ConstructionSkills, the UK’s Sector Skills Council, is looking at along with its partners. One option is to give students greater choice and autonomy over their learning experience by offering a menu-style structure of the different course components, rather than the full two-year programme. This flexible structure would give young people the opportunity to experience different aspects of the construction industry and eventually help them to make a more informed decision about their future career path.

In order to build on the promising results we have seen so far, there is also a need for the construction industry as a whole to become more involved in helping to deliver the qualification. The Diploma in C&BE should not be seen as the preserve of the large industry players, and needs the involvement of smaller firms as well. All employers can do their bit on a regional scale by offering their services for work experience or their premises as environments for young people to learn in.

By increasing the number of employers getting involved in the Diploma, we can ensure that recognition of the qualification is increased among the entire industry. Without this broad support it will be harder for us all to avoid the skill shortages that plagued the industry after the 1990’s recession.

The Diploma in C&BE was developed for the industry, by the industry, and is capable of helping to deliver a very bright future, but needs the support of everybody to continue its success. The future of the industry is very much in our own hands.    

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