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Building a workforce for the future

Tim Forrest, Chief Executive Officer at HT Forrest discusses how his business is benefitting from the new Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment.

It has been well documented that the construction industry has taken a hit recently due to the global economic slowdown; new business pipelines have stalled, job losses have escalated and the knock-on effects from the financial sector have all contributed to a precarious outlook. That said, there is hope for the future, with construction business forecasts expected to pick up from 2011.

In order to prepare for the upturn, the industry must continue to invest time and money in training, so that we have enough skilled workers to deliver the huge programme of planned investment on schools, houses and infrastructure, as without a skilled workforce the UK will struggle to remain competitive. Skills shortages caused by the drop off in training during the last recession were felt years later, so it is crucial that we donít allow this downturn to cause similar problems this time around; we must learn from our past mistakes.

Thatís why we at Forrest chose to get involved with the Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment (C&BE). We work in the service sector of the construction industry with 90% of our revenue coming from the public purse. With a turnover of £50m and 420 employees, we are currently training 80 apprentices in areas such as joinery, plumbing, electrical and plastering. This gives us one of the highest apprentices to employee ratio in the area, but we expect the Diploma will provide us with a new pool of young people who have the skills to make it in the construction and the built environment sectors, covering diverse areas of expertise from tradesmen to management positions.

The Diploma in C&BE, launched last September in selected areas across England by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, will be rolled out across the country over the coming year. 57 consortia, comprising groups of employers, schools, colleges and training providers, have been given the green light to offer places on the Diploma in Construction and Built Environment (C&BE) from September 2010. This is in addition to the 44 consortia currently delivering the Diploma and the 86 due to start this September. By the end of 2010, young people in almost 80 per cent of English local authority areas will be able to study the Diploma and get their first taste of the industry.

The Diploma is a new type of qualification that listens to businesses and incorporates its philosophy into the curriculum. From its planning stages, it has been heavily influenced by industry representatives to ensure that the approach to work required by employers in their young recruits is fostered at an early age. Diploma students will develop the skills that employers seek, such as how to think creatively, problem-solve, communicate effectively and work both independently and as part of a team.

Students will gain an excellent grasp of English, Maths and IT skills, while learning how they relate these key competencies to our industry. They will also learn a range of skills, from understanding the importance of health and safety issues to the management challenges involved in construction. Increasingly important industry topics like sustainability and the impact of the built environment on the community, and professions such as architecture, planning, civil engineering, surveying and building services are also explored.

Taught by professionals with relevant industry knowledge, the Diploma in C&BE combines practical skill development with theoretical and technical knowledge that gives young people the opportunity to gain hands on experience, previously unavailable through traditional education methods, and therefore a better insight into industry. It will help young people make an effective transition from education into their adult working lives and, if they choose, to progress to higher education; over 80% of universities now accept the Diploma as a route into HE.

The reason we got involved is simple Ė we will always need new, capable recruits with an understanding of what the construction industry has to offer and the Diploma goes a long way in providing them. It gives the sector a pipeline of talent into the industry which we cannot afford to miss out on.

The Diploma will open up construction and the built environment to a wider range of young people who perhaps may not have considered the construction industry when planning their career, so it will help ensure a better and bigger pool of potential new recruits. Had I had the opportunity to study something like this when I was at school, I would have jumped at the chance. One of the pieces of feedback that we hear time and time again from students is that they had no idea that there were so many options available in the C&BE sectors, and consequently we are now in the position to inspire and help develop the next wave of quantity surveyors, civil engineers, construction managers and planners of the future.

One thing guaranteed with students is plenty of untapped creativity. Businesses that work with students enjoy the fresh ideas and new perspective that young people bring, which will also help motivate existing staff.

With more and more international firms competing for British contracts, the Diploma will help ensure that England has a highly-skilled workforce capable of competing in a global marketplace. The Diploma in C&BE could also help with staff retention. By teaching young people what the industry entails, you reduce the risk of hiring employees who decide only after entering the workforce that itís not for them.

Working with the Diploma is a fantastic way of developing new recruitment channels. This could not only reduce HR costs dramatically but it also means you get first pick of the best young people coming into the job market. Similarly, young people are more likely to work for a company if they have had positive work experience there or have heard good things about the company from other young people.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is increasingly important in business and is playing an ever more important role in how companies conduct their business. In these competitive times, the difference between winning or losing a contract could be demonstrating your commitment to your local community, such as opting for the Diploma in C&BE.

HT Forrest is committed to supporting each intake onto the Diploma course by providing materials, work placements, site visits and helping the students to prepare for job interviews. In addition, each month our surveyors and contracts managers will be visiting the centre to lecture the pupils and network with the centre staff to ensure that industry standard practices are being taught.

Over 1,100 firms have already committed themselves to supporting the Diploma in C&BE, including ourselves, Wates, Balfour Beatty, Lovell, G&J Seddon, CB&I, Kier Group and Bovis Lend Lease. As it grows, the Diploma in C&BE will need more employers to come on board so they can play an active role in the delivery partnerships. This can be done by joining one of the new consortia making the next round of bids or by joining an existing partnership to provide work experience, teaching support or site visits.

The Diploma will only succeed with the full involvement of employers and industry-wide buy-in, providing the kind of pragmatic knowledge and skills that only employers can, and Iím actively encouraging as many peers to get involved.

For more information on the Diploma and details of how to get involved, visit
www.dcsf.gov.uk/14-19 or www.nebpn.org

Email: jessica.hope@cskills.org


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