Features: November 22nd, 2011

The relationship between the UK’s construction industry and local government needs to be developed further in order to stimulate economic growth and to ensure the right skills and training are in place for the future, writes Jamie White, Head of Commercial Strategy at the National Skills Academy for Construction.

In the current economic downturn, it is vital that local authorities and the UK’s construction industry support each other to develop the necessary training and skills needed for future economic growth. As the construction industry supports 8% of the UK’s GDP, it is imperative that we act now to facilitate increased understanding between these two sectors.

This becomes more significant when considering the Government’s current plans to streamline planning policy through the National Planning Policy Framework. Still open to public consultation, the draft proposal looks to empower local governments with the tools they need to energise local economies via less rigorous planning legislation. In the long term, this has the potential to boost the order books of all construction contractors.

In addition, the Government’s recent announcement which committed £470m to the completion of the Mersey Gateway Bridge, is another example of its strategy to stimulate national economic growth through regional construction initiatives.

Addressing the challenges

With this in mind, it is now imperative that we harness the Government’s construction strategy as a springboard to addressing the sector’s recruitment and skills challenges, whilst also laying the foundations for economic growth.

With one in six workers in the construction industry due to retire in the next decade, the industry is facing a retirement timebomb. An ageing workforce will take with it vital skills and knowledge. Furthermore, construction businesses in regions like the North West are still facing testing times. For example, according to our Construction Skills Network forecast, the North West is one of the hardest hit by the economic downturn, and is due to contract at an average rate of 0.6% between 2011 and 2015.

Public construction projects like the Mersey Gateway Bridge, and the proposals set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, certainly offer hope for the future in order to tackle recruitment and skills challenges. However, we must ensure that there are skills and training frameworks in place to facilitate this in order to stimulate that economic growth in local communities.

One way in which CITB-ConstructionSkills is currently adding value to the industry in this area, is through the Client Based Approach which has been established through our National Skills Academy for Construction.

The framework, predominantly aimed at Central and Local Government and the contractors and suppliers they use, aims to ensure public procurement guidelines are available to help solve the industry’s pressing recruitment challenge. It is also produced in-line with EU procurement legislation.

Help for local authorities

The Client Based Approach will help local authorities to leverage training and employment opportunities through capital work schemes. The aim is to provide a lasting skills legacy for local communities so that they have the necessary skills in place for long term growth. The activities covered by the guidance include work placements, NVQ qualifications, apprenticeships and a variety of training plans for subcontractors.

Within the guidance is good practice information on the use of an Employment and Skills Strategy and the development of an Employment and Skills Plan (ESP). This enables local authorities to carefully plan skills legacies at the outset of projects. The Client Based Approach also includes skills and training benchmarks to provide local authorities with the confidence that their employment and skills requirements are both proportionate and achievable. These benchmarks are set against a variety of contract value bands in several different areas of the construction industry. Figures for skills outcomes can be calculated for projects in the residential, education and health sectors to name a few.

The Client Based Approach is not only limited to local governments and contractors in England. ConstructionSkills Scotland recently launched an update to the guidance which was co-authored with BTO Solicitors and Trowers & Hamlins LLP. This builds on the procurement, legal and contractual issues set out in the Scottish Government Community Benefit in Procurement Report (2008).

ConstructionSkills Scotland’s Client Based Approach also coincides with the Scottish Government’s commitment to ask every company in receipt of a significant government contract to produce a training and apprenticeship plan. This links over £9bn of public procurement over the next spending period to improved training and skills development.

We very much hope that, by offering bespoke solutions to the current economic and recruitment challenges facing different parts of the UK construction industry, the Client Based Approach will be adopted as the main source of guidance for all local government construction procurement.

By fostering and dovetailing the priorities of local authorities and regional construction businesses together through the Client Based Approach, we can help to reenergise the UK economy and ensure that we have the right skills for growth, both nationally and regionally.

For more information about the Client Based Approach, visit www.cskills.org or contact: jamie.white@cskills.org
In Scotland, please contact phillip.ford@cskills.org