The Importance of Construction Training in the UK: Why Proper Training is Essential for Success in the Industry

1. Introduction

Over the past 40-50 years, there have been several government initiatives to ‘reverse the decline in training’ and increase both the amount of skill and level of skill in the construction industry today. A few years ago, the Leitch review suggested that in order for the economy to prosper and increase in productivity, up to 40% of working age adults should have gained a qualification equivalent to two A levels. The construction industry was ranked 9th out of 12 sectors and has shown slow improvement in terms of skills both on and off site.

The UK construction industry has a turnover of around £1,000 million a year and directly employs one tenth of the UK’s working population. Construction craft workers are skilled individuals and are the cornerstone of the industry. Most of these workers gain their skills through a process of informal learning on site which is often unsystematic. In recent years, craft training has always been a key issue in the UK construction industry and continues to be a very important issue to this date, with the Robbins report (1963) stating that there should be 250,000 skilled craftsmen to form the basis of an efficient and progressive building industry. Craft training became a major priority for the CITB in the late 1960s when they began to phase out direct entry into skilled occupations and develop a range of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). During this time, the CITB set up ‘training groups’ to develop and support training, providing several tools and resources that can still be seen today.

2. Benefits of Construction Training

Improved technical skills The standard of workmanship and finish in the construction and built environment is extremely variable due to the diversity of the workforce and the different trades in the industry, but ultimately employers and clients expect high standards. The skill shortage within construction means that the industry has a relatively high proportion of under-skilled workers. Low skills levels not only affect productivity but it can also have an adverse effect on health and safety and be a cause of lower quality work. It is widely recognized that there is a need to improve, upskill, and multi-skill the existing workforce if productivity and the competitiveness of the industry are to be raised, and this in turn will engage the need to provide workers with adequate knowledge and a means of achieving nationally recognized qualifications. The Construction Industry Council’s Craft and Technician Skills Survey identified major skills gaps amongst site managers and tradespeople and called for increased provision of vocational training and education for site managers and supervisors. This was echoed in the Egan report and more recently by the CITB. This drive to upskill and multi-skill the workforce is, in effect, a strategy for the development of a more competent workforce providing individuals with a career path and progression opportunities right through to professional levels of work.

Enhanced safety practices This refers to one of the prominent reasons why the construction industry is so supportive of training. On average, a construction worker is twice as likely to suffer from a disabling injury as they are in any other industry. One major concern is that the industry is attracting a high number of workers leaving school with no qualifications who may be more accident prone. Also, the new EC directive concerning the Construction Design Management (CDM) Regulations specifically identifies competence and training as a means of improving health and safety. The industry is then faced with the challenge of providing and managing the necessary training. Research has shown that investment in training has a dramatic effect on reducing the rate of accidents. In 2001, the Industrial Accident and Prevention Association completed a study on workplace injuries and illnesses and found that new workers in their first month of employment have more than three times the risk of injury than more experienced workers. This can be attributed to a lack of training and/or inadequate knowledge of the job and the task requirements.

2.1. Enhanced Safety Practices

The next most common way workers learn on their own is to take a short course provided by their employers, often on company time. The cost of this can vary, but it might involve sending workers to a construction site safety workshop. The problem with private targeted education is that workers tend to forget what they have learned soon after the training without putting the new knowledge into practice.

Employers cite many reasons why construction training is important in the UK. That said, one of the most critical and obvious reasons why you need to develop your construction skills is to prevent injury to yourself and others. Like most men and women doing DIY tasks around the home, construction workers typically start off with little or no skills in construction. Many construction workers learn their skills on the job in unskilled positions. Often, they have the basic knowledge to perform their basic tasks or to operate construction equipment. The problem with this method is that they are unwittingly learning by trial and error at the expense of others.

2.2. Improved Technical Skills

For a variety of reasons, the industry is succeeding in recruiting better-qualified workers, but to retain them, updated training and retraining is their most desired method for adding value to their employees. Thus, it is essential for the progression of their careers in addition to the industry. With a massive demand for labor due to numerous projects reaching the construction phase in sectors such as rail and infrastructure, and a looming Brexit black hole threatening to swallow up a substantial portion of the skilled workforce, it is more important than ever to train and upskill the workforce we have today.

An increasingly skilled workforce sets the tone for raising the reputation and appeal of the industry, combined with a younger, more academically gifted generation of school leavers and graduates that are considering construction as an aspirational career choice. 34% of employers are still not satisfied with the skill base of their employees in 2013, and our increasing shortage of skilled workers is still a cause for concern.

This skilled workforce provides a valuable asset for the UK’s construction industry, one which enables a more highly trained and reliable workforce to carry out improvements in methods and products, as well as offering an internationally transferable set of skills. This, in turn, helps dispute the one-dimensional image of construction work as being low skilled and physically demanding. The CITB’s affiliated Go Construct campaign is evidence of this, aiming to attract a new generation of construction professionals entering the industry.

2.3. Increased Job Opportunities

In conclusion, the construction industry provides a wealth of opportunity that is constantly evolving. This means choosing a career will not be the end of an education. And with employment variety ranging from indoor to outdoor work and manual to professional occupations, there is a job for everyone. High demands for increased education and various job positions mean that there will always be an opportunity to advance in a construction career. Whether it is directly or indirectly related to construction, increased job opportunities are an essential benefit with regards to the development of the industry and the improvement of individuals.

Another member of staff at Yeading and Harlington Community Campus, Chris Davis, is currently working as a Quantity Surveyor, having completed a degree with the support of his employer. He is one of the many examples of success within the construction industry. Due to the costs and time limits on education in the modern day, people will want to know they will find a job in their desired area before they invest. And with the industry possessing high career mobility, it provides this guarantee.

In constructing job opportunities, the demand for labor is likely to remain constant or grow. By obtaining a range of qualifications within the construction industry, an individual could climb to the very top of employment. This includes Construction Manager working on construction sites. With experience or further qualification, for example, a degree, there is also the opportunity to work with organizations such as Construction Skills, who are responsible for the training and development of the UK construction industry. The availability of these opportunities can also ease the possibility of self-employment.

3. Types of Construction Training Programs

There are advanced and higher apprenticeships available at levels 3-5, and these provide experience which is equivalent to a foundation degree and above. Higher apprenticeships have an equivalent educational level to higher education certificates.

Apprenticeships are available in a wide range of industries which employ an estimated 250 various job roles. For example, an apprenticeship in business and administration can be linked to many different office based job roles i.e. administrator, personal assistant or office supervisor. There are also many apprenticeships available in environmentally friendly job roles such as a wind turbine technician or a recycling officer.

An apprenticeship must be at least 16 hours a week, although this does not apply to certain people or job roles. Apprenticeships can be based in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales and are open to people of all ages from 16 upwards. National Minimum Wage, National Insurance and tax is applicable to all apprentices. With the majority of 16-18 year old apprentices or those in the first year of their apprenticeship, the Apprentice Rate applies to them. The age range for this rate is 16-18 year olds and those aged over 19 in the first year of their apprenticeship and it is currently £2.60 per hour. The National Minimum Wage applies to all of the other apprentices and more course information can be found on the National Apprenticeship Service website.

An apprenticeship is a job where you earn a wage and learn new skills at the same time. You are also entitled to the normal benefits that employees receive. These jobs must last for at least one year, but many last for up to four years. 80% or more of the training takes place on the job, however, it is supported by off-the-job learning which typically takes place in a college or a training organisation.

3.1. Apprenticeships

An apprenticeship is arguably the oldest form of training within the construction industry in the UK, and still provides the backbone for the majority of training today. A modern apprenticeship is aimed at 16-24 year olds and combines both college-based learning alongside practical experience on site. These are generally 4 years in duration with the apprentice receiving a pay rise if/when they complete the 12-week stages leading up to the next level of skills, with the final stage resulting in a pay rise and potential employment. Many consider an apprenticeship position to be a job with training rather than a training course. With this, the apprentice can learn the desired skills in a variety of ways including onsite training, role-playing, team exercises, and off-site training and still obtain recognized qualifications from NVQs to HNC level. This can provide work to be much more exciting and rewarding compared with other learning methods. It can be difficult to break into the construction industry as there is a high level of trainees to jobs. Apprentice training agencies can help the apprentice to get a foot in the door with smaller construction firms, by being employed by the agency and sub-contracting the trainee to the firm. The costs and risks to the employer are reduced, and these are often for short-term placements. BuildingCrafts College are strong believers in the apprenticeship training scheme and offer training in various trades whilst helping the apprentice to obtain a placement with a firm. With the UK constantly aiming to increase the number of qualified tradesmen, Modern Apprenticeship National Training Organisations exist to plan, develop, implement, and maintain quality apprenticeship training. This is with the vision to train 16,000 individuals a year.

3.2. Vocational Courses

A vocational course is also an excellent way to improve communication and knowledge transfer. Some workers with great skill in construction have had limited education and struggle to understand the demands of the modern construction industry. A vocational course is a good way for these workers to adapt to industry changes and improve the understanding of their work. With poor health and safety and the continuous misunderstandings at this date in construction, a vocational course is also an excellent way to increase the overall work quality in the industry.

Vocational courses mainly consist of mature students. This is a good thing as it increases the comfort of the person taking on the new skill. Groups of people the same age as yourself help you to develop a new skill because you will feel more comfortable in what you are doing, a sense of humor can be shared about beginner mistakes and helps everyone to learn and remember the most important information. A mature group of students also promotes learning and responsibility. If a group of mature students is doing a course which is also sponsored by a company, they may be more likely to take on a trainee through a college course. This is particularly beneficial to construction as the experienced workers can teach the students the right way of doing things and it’s almost certain that they will do work which has an immediate relation to their studies at college.

There are many benefits to vocational courses. These courses help you greatly improve the skills that are essential when on a construction site. Most of the theory that is involved in taking on a new skill is taught at a vocational course. This is particularly essential in construction as the more manual-based skills are very difficult to learn without practical help and many mistakes can be made. For example, skills such as bricklaying or joinery may look simple but without a great understanding, expensive mistakes can easily be made.

3.3. Professional Certifications

Accredited certifications are generally portable between employers, meaning there is less risk of losing accomplishments if an employee must change jobs. Certifications can also increase an employee’s marketability and potentially lead to higher earning power. Employers benefit from certifications as they can be linked to greater productivity, stronger adherence to quality standards, and higher overall performance. Studies also show that certified professionals have a higher rate of being promoted and are more likely to be put on task forces and special projects. Consequently, it is more probable for a person to acquire a top management position if they have a certification as opposed to if they do not. With the growing shortage of qualified construction professionals, certifications provide a formal method of training and identifying qualified individuals. So what does this mean for the future of the construction industry? Ideally, it represents a movement towards a more professional and efficient industry.

Professional certifications are becoming increasingly popular among employers and are now considered to be vital. Professional certifications are the fastest-growing professional recognition in the construction industry. It is reported that over 200,000 certifications have been issued to date. Certifications are voluntary designations designed to recognize those individuals who have achieved a certain level of professional skill and knowledge. Certification holders must demonstrate minimal levels of professional skills and knowledge in the construction domain. Construction certifications measure both knowledge and professional skills. Now that there are so many different types of professional designations available, it is important to understand what each represents so that an employee can choose the best certification to meet their career objectives. With professional certifications being in such high demand and held in such high regard, it can only be beneficial for an employee to carry a construction certification.

4. Training Requirements for Construction Workers

Finally, the level of specialized training required can depend on the trade and the individual’s career ambitions. Anyone working on a construction site needs an understanding of the building process and the ability to coordinate effectively with other workers. Manual laborers may not require any formal qualifications, but having a skilled trade can improve employment prospects in the long term. For example, an electrician or plumber will usually undergo an apprenticeship and/or a college course and will need to prove their competency with practical work. The highest level of training in construction is for those wishing to enter management, and it is now becoming possible to enter into a management role with a construction-related degree and no manual labor experience.

Another requirement is to have a solid understanding of construction industry regulations. This may involve further education at a college or university, and it may be necessary for individuals to keep up to date with regulation changes, particularly if self-employed. Failing to comply with regulations can result in litigation, and having good knowledge of the law can prevent workers from getting into legal disputes. This is very important for workers involved in design or planning aspects of construction, as regulations directly affect their work.

To work in the construction industry, workers need to meet certain training requirements. The nature of this work, often involving heavy manual labor, makes health and safety training crucial. Workers are often required to receive the Construction Skills Certificate Scheme (CSCS) card. Without this, they may struggle to gain employment. To gain the card, an individual must pass a health and safety test and prove that they have sufficient knowledge and training within their occupation. Ideally, health and safety is a priority and all workers will have additional training in this area. This is particularly important for those in supervisory or management roles.

4.1. Health and Safety Training

It is essential that a person entering the construction industry, no matter what age, has a clear understanding of how to work safely. Health and safety is not something that can be picked up here and there on site; it is an essential skill. In fact, many larger construction companies now won’t even employ workers to undertake certain types of work unless they have evidence of formal training in health and safety.

Construction sites are dangerous places and, year in, year out, the construction industry records more and more lost-time injuries and fatalities than other industries. Statistically, construction employers are more likely to be prosecuted for breaching health and safety law than employers in other industries, and there is a good reason for this. The nature of the work, whether it’s carpentry, roofing, scaffolding, stonemasonry, or any other facet of building, makes construction work more hazardous than other lines of employment. Health and safety accidents in construction manifest in terms of lost working days as well as real and vital human suffering. Construction workers are quite often required to sustain a family on only one income, and if that earner is injured or killed, the disruption in terms of the inability to earn and the emotional and financial effects on that family can be catastrophic.

4.2. Construction Industry Regulations

Regulation 4 of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations requires designers to avoid foreseeable risk in design work or, if that is not possible, to reduce and, where possible, to foresee risk that comes from any use, maintenance, cleaning, dismantling, or eventual demolition of the building or structure. The duty of competence to tackle health and safety issues and the methods to fulfill this is a training requirement and a duty that carries vast emphasis. This is good news for those looking for a career in construction, as high health and safety standards mean more work, which results in more employment.

Construction is a high-risk industry, and its workers are more likely to be killed or sustain a serious injury than the general population. This gives them the right to expect that the health, safety, and welfare of all persons at a construction site, whether they are at work, a tradesman, or a member of the public, will not be endangered at any time. Because of this, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992, which place a duty on all employers to assess risks to employees and others, must have a competent person to assist with safety and health measures, inform employees of the risks, and record findings.

Construction work is carried out within an extensive framework of legislation, regulations, and codes of practice that exist at European, national, and local levels. Within this framework, health and safety regulations place a number of duties on employers and employees.

4.3. Specialized Training for Different Trades

For most trades in the construction industry today, there are written National Skill Standards and in some cases, assessment and certification programs. National skill standards have been developed by a large number of trade associations and contractor groups to clearly define the knowledge and skills needs in a specific trade. Essentially, they are a set of benchmarks outlining what an apprentice should know and be able to do at various stages of their apprenticeship. For the apprentice, the skill standards provide a clear checklist of what needs to be learned and it also gives them recognition of their achievement. The skill standards can also be used to guide the curriculum and teaching resources for an instructor. Assessment and certification programs measure the apprentice’s skills and knowledge against the benchmarks outlined in the skill standards. Usually, this will take the form of a written test and some sort of practical demonstration in a simulated environment. If an apprentice successfully completes an assessment and certification program, it can be used as a valuable tool to distinguish themselves from their peers and it is an indication to an employer of their competency in that trade.

Specialized training for different trades in the construction industry is ergonomic and it begins with the apprentice. Learning a trade in construction is different from learning in other industries in that it is done almost exclusively on the job through an apprenticeship. An apprentice is someone who already has an idea of what trade they would like to learn, whether it is from prior experience, family members, or simple exposure. Because an apprentice has a definite goal, the training is focused on the skills and knowledge required to perform that specific job. General construction knowledge is still an important part of the learning process, but it will be picked up throughout the specific trade training. This method of learning is direct and effective, since the apprentice is learning both in a classroom and work setting with small groups or even one-on-one guidance from a more experienced tradesman.

5. Training Providers in the UK

Step by step, CITB support is available to individuals or employers who wish to take a strategic approach to skills development. This can be accessed through the network of CITB area-based customer advisors, registered individuals, and training coordinators.

The National Construction Colleges, based at Bircham Newton, Norfolk and Inchinnan, near Glasgow, provide a hub of construction-specific skills training and a working environment. The unique partnership between industry, government, and the ECITB ensures that the provision meets the needs of the employer and learner. Delivered through direct entry from any of the modern apprenticeships or the progressive and adult routes, the NCCs offer a curriculum framework based on National Occupational Standards and Modern Apprenticeship Frameworks at both craft and technician levels. A range of learning is offered from basic skill development, leading to a specific qualification, right through to the achievement of higher-level skills and knowledge via professional development routes. The CITB is able to provide funding in the form of grants for the achievement and retention of specific qualifications through completion of a course. This offers a way to access the existing workforce and develop skills to a standard that will support career progression.

CITB provides the direction by which all companies and individuals can grow and prosper. At the heart of the strategic skills needs and challenges that the industry faces, it helps to identify how best to establish a fully competent workforce. Providing a service which is driven by the CITB funded National Construction Colleges and delivered through its approved provider, the flexible approach enables individuals to obtain skills and qualifications in an environment and at a pace to suit the needs of both the learner and employer. Delivered through both on-site and block mode learning, the CITB funded provision offers a cost-effective solution to skills development whilst addressing specific employer and learner needs.

5.1. Construction Industry Training Board (CITB)

CITB was established in 1964 and became a corporate body under the 1964-70 Labour government. The board’s primary task is to keep the construction industry’s training in line with the national needs. The industry has changed markedly over the last 30 years and CITB has reacted to that change to ensure that training can help meet the new demands placed on the construction industry to increase productivity and efficiency. CITB works closely with the industry and government to identify where skills gaps are and how best to address these, thus ensuring that training at all levels meets the needs of the industry and its clients at the current time. For now, the sector has identified 5 key priorities and CITB will focus all its efforts on these in order to improve training and skills provision for the industry. These priorities are: increasing the value of vocational learning, improving the image and awareness of the industry as a progressive career choice, increasing the quality of management and supervisory skills and its teaching provision, addressing the need for improved craft and technical skills; learning pathways and addressing the needs for up-skilling and re-skilling the existing workforce. All work at CITB is centered around achieving these outcomes for the industry by 2012. These priorities will be driven through a sector skills agreement and action plan, and reviewed in 2011. These aims are very much in line with government construction strategy and agreed learning and skills council priorities for the sector. This helps to provide a clear schedule of work and clear funding streams from the sector to ensure industry cohesion behind these goals and a clear measure of success.

5.2. National Construction College

NCC has a very good research and development base. As the industry continues to evolve and new techniques and materials are developed, it is critical for workers in the industry to learn and use these new skills. Consequently, training in new techniques for persons already in the industry becomes ever more important. This type of training is most often done in conjunction with the employer to develop skills that can be applied directly into the workplace. Workers can attend courses in detail design and planning, building services, site management, building control, and general management, or training may be on the job with the worker attending college on a part-time and day release basis. NCC also has a large and expanding e-learning program, in recognition of the fact that people today often wish to learn in their own time and at their own pace. This type of training is useful for both new entrants to the industry and old timers who are coping with change and wish to remain up to date with market requirements.

One of the major players in the provision of construction training in the UK is the National Construction College (NCC). It is part of the Construction Industry Training Board. It exists primarily to train and certify persons working in the construction field. This training is conducted at various levels to include craft, technical, supervisory, and management levels. Consequently, training programs can range from a few weeks for relatively simple skills to several years for highly complex managerial skill sets.

5.3. Private Training Companies

There are a large number of private training companies in the UK. Training providers can be found by doing a search on the internet or looking in the local yellow pages. There are also a large number of training brokers and intermediaries who will find a training course for you. A master list of all private construction training can be found at a CITB registered centre or through the internet with the CITB. This central database will assist with course information, course availability, and pursuant to the research, it may generate an increase in course provision from these private training providers. A potential trainee looking to attend a course can use this portal to find out what is available in their local area. An increased availability of courses in construction skills will provide a much greater opportunity for individuals wishing to enter into the construction industry. This is worthwhile considering if the frequency of courses in local colleges is not sufficient or a particular trade route is desired. This is in reference to the evidence shown according to the key trends and statistics of current training provision.

6. Funding Options for Construction Training

Many construction workers rely on their employers to provide access to the most important training opportunities. Employers might feel more comfortable sending their workers off to get trained if they understand the cost and what it will involve. There are many ways that employers can fund training for employees. One great way that employers can get help with the cost of apprenticeship training is to look into grants that are available in the construction sector. According to Gower College, many employers invest in training their workforce with the help of the Train to Gain service. This provides funding to deliver free, flexible training tailored to business needs, if the training is for employees who do not hold a full level 2 qualification. Another option may be the use of a ReAct funded employee. This is an employee who has been made redundant in the last 6 months and is receiving jobseeker’s allowance. An employer can provide the redundant employee with a job incorporated with the potential to complete a ReAct course. The ReAct II and ReAct Plus offer new incentives to employers to upskill and employ those made redundant. A ReAct learner can be employed and receive a wage for a minimum of 25 hours per week. The employer can receive a learning subsidy of £150 per week for the first 30 weeks of employment. The employer must take the redundant employee on as a full-time employee before the learning subsidy can start. The employer can receive a wage subsidy of up to a maximum of 50% of the average wage difference between the employee’s previous job and their ReAct II or ReAct Plus job.

6.2. Employer Sponsorship Programs

Grants and subsidies of various types are available to both employers and individuals to fund construction training. CITB-Construction Skills offers a range of grants to employers to help them increase the skill levels of their workforce. These include grants for off-the-job training for apprentices; a grant for achieving an NVQ in the current or next higher level CITB-Construction Skills grant; and higher level skills grants which are aimed at upskilling the existing workforce. CITB-Construction Skills also offers grants to Micro and Small employers to help improve their business by providing support in an area of identified weakness. The Train to Gain service offers free, impartial advice and support to employers in England who wish to invest in skills and training. Through the Train to Gain service, employers may be eligible for funding to provide off-the-job training to employees who do not hold a full level 2 qualification. Learners aged 25 and over may be eligible for an Advanced Learning Loan to fund the course fee of an eligible course at level 3 to level 6. If the course is successfully completed and the learner goes on to a higher education course, the Government will write off the outstanding Advanced Learning Loan for the education course.

6.1. Government Grants and Subsidies

6.1. Government Grants and Subsidies

The Construction Industry Training Fund (CITF) was established to provide funds to employers and employees in the construction industry for training and skills upgrading. The fund is available for all construction apprentices and trainees who are employed under the WA State Training Board of Apprenticeship and Traineeship services and their employers. This fund has a wide range of potential uses from supporting off the job training costs to purchasing resources and materials and is available to construction training organisations, Group Training Companies and other construction industry stakeholders in Western Australia.

Government grants and subsidies are made available to construction training organisations and construction businesses in order to help alleviate the current skills shortages. This funding is available to construction training providers in the form of government training initiative monies and supports the training for currently employed and new entrant trainees. The initiative monies are used to directly fund training costs and in some instances employers may be eligible for grants to release their workers for off the job training. This means that their salary costs are covered and the employer does not have to bear the cost of the apprentice or trainee attending training. These incentives encourage more training activity by employers and lead to increased qualification completions by trade persons and trainees. This is an attractive incentive for potential trainees as there is increased job security and career prospects for completing an apprenticeship or traineeship.

6.2. Employer Sponsorship Programs

Employers are often required to invest time and resources in the development of their staff teams and must then make critical decisions regarding who to support and in what way. With graduate recruitment on the increase, many large organizations are turning to sponsorship as a means to maintain quality existing staff by offering them the chance to increase their qualifications, and to recruit high-caliber graduates and sponsor them through training in a specific discipline. “said Rob Williams, Construction Underground, a management services company “The CITB has recognized that employers now need more direct and accessible support to aid training. This issue had come to a head when in 1994, the CITB levy had to be increased to fund a growing number of projects targeted at individuals, but many employers were still unaware of the opportunities available to them.” This quote “…Next year we more than doubled the amount of grants given, with more employers knowing about the CITB’s funding and a significant increase in sponsored students…” which serves to reinforce the impact of direct financial support and the need for greater awareness.

Sponsor programmes betoken perfect sense from the employer’s point of view. They target support directly to the individual employer to release their potential and develop their role within the company. Support can be offered to employers of any size and in InfoLink, a CITB report on the findings of a small-medium enterprise research project, it concluded that SMEs are a key area to target. In the survey, 70% of SMEs declared that they would be more likely to train an employee if external funding was available and 65% of SMEs stated that they would be willing to release an employee for block off-the-job training if the employee was making good progress.

6.3. Personal Investment in Training

There is a growing trend towards personal investment in education and training in many countries (Hanley and Pinnell, 2003). This trend is largely associated with the global shift from a Keynesian welfare model to a neo-liberal model of governance, in which the individual is increasingly required to take responsibility for their own well-being, and which brands the possession of high-level skills and qualifications as the passport to social and economic success. At the same time, changes in employment and production patterns in advanced capitalist societies have led to greater job insecurity for many workers, due to the decline of the ‘job for life’ in many industries. The construction industry epitomizes this trend, with the decline of permanent employment and growth of subcontracting and casual labor (Dainty and Lucas, 2003). It has been suggested that the changing nature of employment has led to ‘decreased employer provision and uptake of vocational training’ (Clarke, C, 2003, cited in Gulikers et al, 2007), therefore construction workers must find ways to obtain training and qualifications outside of the employer-employee relationship. This suggests that construction workers in the UK are increasingly required to make a personal investment in training, and that employer provision may no longer be a viable means for many to access training and qualifications. Whether or not this is an individual choice or a necessity imposed by changes in the industry is unclear, however, in self-report surveys, British construction workers frequently express a desire to improve their skills and job prospects through training (Clarke, M and Smith, J, 2003). The same survey also revealed that workers were often unaware of the learning opportunities available to them, suggesting that many were not in a position to access employer-provided training, and that they may benefit from greater access to information on how to make a personal investment in training. However, it should be made clear that ‘personal investment’ does not necessarily mean paying out of one’s own pocket for training; it also encompasses investing time and effort into obtaining skills and qualifications, particularly those that are not essential for present employment, in the hope of future job/career advancement. This could be through self-directed learning, or through a combination of paid and unpaid learning while in-between jobs. It is expected that personal investment through unpaid learning will become more common as job insecurity and the use of casual labor continue to grow in the construction industry.

7. Challenges and Solutions in Construction Training

Retaining skilled workers in the industry The UK construction industry has a historically poor record on retaining skills as, once there is a downturn in the sector, skilled workers tend to move elsewhere. Due to this, there tends to be cyclical skills shortages with a boom in the industry. In times of plenty, employers take on more people and train them in-house, thus not needing to take on new recruits when the labour market is tight – and there are fewer skilled older workers to fall back on. In preparedness for this, a phased discontinuation of entry of new entrants to the industry in times of scarcity will be done through a combination of controlled entry to the industry as an identified trade and vocational training programmes and apprenticeships. This aims to reduce the number of new recruits and direct them to be fully trained, avoiding the necessity to make redundancies and therefore losing skills. Essentially, it will break the cycle of deadweight loss of newly trained employees. This strategy will be mirrored when the labour market is tight and bring about a skilled flexible workforce with an optimal age and qualifications structure. This will require long-term planning and skills forecasting, which will be carried out by a development body for the CITB.

Lack of awareness and access to training While government efforts in creating a positive “learning culture” through NVQs have had some effect, there are an increasing number of people who are funding their own training with the goal of increasing their skills and, therefore, career prospects. This has been indicated by the increase in numbers in higher education in construction-related disciplines. However, the overall percentage of people in the industry who are learning new skills has declined. Reports have shown that this has been due to a lack of training provision for people in their specific roles – i.e. training for site managers has been largely overlooked. This results in the time and money spent on training being wasted. If an employee does not see how the training will benefit their job and prospects, they will be less inclined to take part. The industry needs to find better ways of identifying skill gaps, training, and recognizing the types of training available. This can be perceived as an entire profession taking part in a SWOT analysis of themselves. This will ensure structural training methods to direct people through from apprentice or graduate, through to senior management, with skill.

7.1. Lack of Awareness and Access to Training

A survey into the construction industry conducted by CITB-ConstructionSkills in 2009 found that over half of all construction employers thought that there was a lack of skilled workers in the industry, and that this was expected to get worse [CITB-ConstructionSkills, (2009) Getting Building Britain Back on Track. London: CITB-ConstructionSkills]. This implies that the role of training and the quality of the training being carried out was not of a sufficient standard to fulfill the needs of the industry, and its failure to reach this standard could have serious long-term negative effects. The survey also suggested that the lack of skills would also increase the level of health and safety risks in the workplace. This problem can potentially be as a result of negative commodity effects with the focus of training between employers and workers moving towards a minimum effort approach due to economic climates in recent years. Furthermore, the industry is constantly recruiting and with high staff turnovers the employers find it difficult to source future employees that possess the correct skills to perform the work. £7.5m funding from ConstructionSkills, the Sector Skills Council and Industry Training Board for the construction industry, into research by Loughborough University, aims to tackle these problems in 2010. This is backed further in the 2011-12 Business Plan from the ConstructionSkills Sector Skills Council, suggesting that a strategy is to improve the status and quality of learning in the construction industry. This will ensure that awareness of training will begin to move from the current low levels and begin to attract employees both young and old who wish to learn new skills to improve their career prospects. Furthermore, this should aim to provide employers with a clearer and improved outcome of what to expect from the training their employees are participating in. This will begin to erode the effects of negative commodity by providing a higher quality training standard and enhanced skills outcome through quality training.

7.2. Retaining Skilled Workers in the Industry

Building firms have also taken this into their own hands, with the upsurge of group training associations, in a joint effort to make training more cost-effective for small companies who do not have the resources to release trainees off-site and leave workloads unattended.

According to the Construction Industry Training Board, one construction worker in five changes jobs more than once a year, which is 5% higher than the average for all industries. In an incentive to try and increase the numbers of long-term employees within companies, the government has introduced a grant for companies who take on apprentices aged 16 to 24, which has been raised from £1000 to £2500.

One reason for the past lack of apprentice-style training in the industry compared to other European countries was due to the vocational qualifications being devalued and portrayed as second rate. This has been addressed to some extent with the NVQ system, but the main issue here is that once trainees learn enough to get a higher-paying job elsewhere, they tend to leave the industry.

Currently, construction is an aging industry. As more and more skilled workers approach retirement, the numbers of skilled workers are growing increasingly thinner. Using the CITB’s Construction Skills Network research, the Federation of Master Builders reports that 400,000 workers will leave the construction industry within the next 10 years. Due to this massive loss of skilled workers, it is imperative to start training the younger workers and retain them for the long term.

7.3. Continuous Professional Development (CPD) Programs

A major component of CPD is the improvement of soft skills, a desirable prospect for the industry looking to improve the quality of its workforce. By preparing a workshop, training seminar, or online course in things like managing others, effective diversity in the workplace, or communication strategies, the worker who attends will be able to improve their professional progression through learning how to handle more responsibility in the field. This can mean striving for a higher role in construction or giving opportunities for workers to share their knowledge by becoming a teacher or assessor in their respective field. An improvement of soft skills is also said to directly increase the retention of a skilled worker. While the learning occurs in the classroom, its implementation will be exercised in everyday working life. A worker who has bettered their understanding of the managerial role will aspire to a position giving a chance for self-application, and a successful communicator will find resolution to problems on the job more effectively.

The CSCS states that CPD is “the means by which professionals maintain, improve, and broaden their knowledge and skills and develop the personal qualities required in their professional lives.” This is a program designed to ensure that the knowledge of a qualified worker is consistent with the latest legislation, technology, and working techniques in their respective field. It is a requirement that all skilled workers become CSCS members.

While apprenticeship provides a solid foundation of learning for the construction industry, it is a 4-year-long program, and in such a rapidly evolving industry, a track of consistent learning needs to be established. According to Pilbeam’s percentages, 80% of a tradesperson’s expertise is built on the initial 20% of their training. The remaining 20% of their knowledge is built over the final 80% of their career. In essence, it is saying that the longer you learn something, the more you understand it.

8. The Future of Construction Training in the UK

2. The likely proliferation of IT uses, such as handheld Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), for tasks such as snagging and recording site information, will mean that even traditionally non-desk-based jobs will require a higher level of IT literacy. The same applies to changes in modern building techniques, such as offsite manufacturing and modern materials development. These processes are more akin to manufacturing and assembly work, and hence the skills and training required to operate within them will be very different from those required for traditional building techniques.

1. The rate at which new technology is developed and utilized in the construction industry has traditionally been slow, but this is set to change. It is widely recognized that the incorporation of modern technologies and an efficient use of IT will be crucial in improving productivity and quality in the industry. Consequently, training will be essential in ensuring the industry can adapt and make the most of these changes. This will need to be achieved at all levels, from operatives and tradesmen up to site managers and other professionals.

The construction industry faces a future of challenges. They are, by and large, well known and despite some specific details relating to scale and exact method of manipulation, the form they will take is relatively easy to predict. It is with this in mind that the future of construction training must be contemplated. There are three aspects which will be fundamental in determining the future of construction training in the UK:

8.1. Technological Advancements in Training Methods

Simulations in virtual worlds have been established successfully in other industries for many years; just one example is the use of flight simulators for training pilots. There is a vast amount of potential for the use of virtual world simulations in the construction industry. Using 3D models of construction projects, trainees would be able to go through real construction processes and techniques within a given project and be able to witness and rectify any mistakes they make without any safety or cost implications. The visual and practical learning will allow for a good transfer of knowledge to various construction tasks and is a great alternative to reading and writing. This method could be used for learning at any level; trainees and experienced workers could set themselves up for new tasks they have not performed and use it as a guide until they are comfortable carrying it out in a real situation.

The software consists of a series of interactive games and quizzes with a vast array of characters to help guide the user through the various levels of vocational skills and know-how. It is a fun and interactive way to get people into learning without the traditional reading and writing, which can be very beneficial for those who are not as motivated to learn that way. Although this is a good approach, there may still be some areas of construction in which the use of a practical environment is more beneficial. Software for learning within the construction field is an ongoing theme from many sources and should be able to do nothing but improve the knowledge in the industry. This will also help those who are in education to gain an understanding of what they are learning and be able to apply it to the industry once they have finished their studies.

Training in the construction industry has seen tremendous advances in the past decade, especially with the use of technology in programs. ConstructIT, a project developed and implemented through CITB-ConstructionSkills with support from employers in the industry, is an initiative to encourage new entrants and existing workers within the construction industry to use interactive ‘edutainment’ software to improve their knowledge of vocational work-based skills and the industry. This initiative is more focused on the less experienced, but there is potential for higher-level knowledge to be gained from the programs.

8.2. Integration of Sustainable Construction Practices

To facilitate this preparation for industry, the CITB has suggested the development of a virtual learning environment which would immerse the student in a simulated construction project. Steps like this are valuable in creating seamless transitions between learning and working.

Once educated or skilled in sustainable methods, entry into the industry needs to be as smooth as possible. The hardest changes take place when there is a disparity between learning and working environments. Therefore, if a graduate is raring to use his newfound sustainable techniques and he is met by a boss telling him to forget all he has learned, the result is frustration. For this reason, it is important that graduates are not only aware of sustainable construction issues but also of the current state of play in industry. This would allow them to anticipate and perhaps circumvent the problems they may face when trying to implement new methods.

There is a strong argument which says that sustainable construction should be a specific module or even a degree in its own right. This is useful in ensuring that it is not sidelined as a topic, often a fate befalling cross-cutting issues, and it allows students to specialize, giving them a sound knowledge base to start from when taking up roles in industry. The idea of specific training has been advocated by Aouad et al., who speculate how a professional operating within a sector as vast as construction could hope to understand the complexities of sustainability without some form of tailored learning.

In order to ensure that the concepts of sustainable construction are being taught, it is important to discuss the integration of sustainable construction practices into the curriculum. This is a complex issue likely to vary at different levels from academic institutions to professional bodies, but the underlying principle is simple: if an individual is taught using sustainable methods, then these are the methods he will take into industry. Therefore, the training would be best targeted at those entering the industry, as older workers may find it difficult to make changes to the ways they have worked for many years.

8.3. Collaboration between Industry and Educational Institutions

The construction industry in the UK has realized that it must increase the qualifications of its workforce. This has numerous benefits for the industry, with clients getting a better quality of work and workers having an increased rate of job satisfaction. It has been recognized that it is essential to increase cooperation between the industry and educational institutions, increasing the aspirations of young people and making them aware of the golden opportunities that are available within the construction industry. Increased collaboration will solve the employment problems within the industry, by attracting the right mix of people and increasing the diversity of the workforce it can overcome the skills shortages and demand for labor which has inflated construction wages in recent years. This will mean a greater intelligence in the workforce and a move towards more professional status. Collaboration will enable employers to also have an increased involvement in the training and development of their workforce. With training being costly and often time consuming, many employers are put off by releasing their staff for a day release type course and the possibility of them leaving the firm after completion. It is essential that there are many different pathways available for people to upgrade their qualifications and status within the industry. This can include NVQ’s and higher national diplomas studied at further education colleges and day/block release courses. The development of the National Skills Academy and the increased presence of Federations for various trades can offer short courses and training programs in specific areas i.e. bricklaying, roofing etc. The successes or failures of these initiatives can be monitored throughout the industry through various statistics. For example, success could be measured by a decrease in the amount of jobs that are contractually disputed by clients and firms needing mediation or legal action. This would mean that there is a higher quality and professionalism level in the workforce. The recent occurring collapse of many companies and their subsequent inexpensive sale of equipment and materials is a sign of how there is too much incompetence in many areas of the industry. Increased qualifications and an increased intelligence in the workforce should eradicate some of these problems.

9. Conclusion

It is then noted that with the employment status of the majority of construction workers, it can be difficult for them to fund their own training, leading us to survey the employers’ views on the matter. This is where it is highlighted that employers have a legal obligation to their workforce and with growing health and safety regulation, there is a consensus that less is being ‘learnt on the job’. The current trend is for employers to actually provide training for employees, making it an employment benefit. This will have a profound effect on the future as it will eventually increase the skill base at operative level.

We discuss the construction industry’s slow progress in producing a highly skilled workforce and consider the character of the current available training. This leads us to identifying the main construction operatives and their training needs, detailing plant operators as an example. We consider the training needs of operatives in terms of efficiency, now being shown by the preference to deal with off-the-job training. This is enforced by CITB and has an HM Government view that vocational training should be carried out in an environment which simulates the real one as closely as possible.

This post sets out to discuss why construction training is essential in the UK. We define construction and its various activities, considering how training is reflected in the quality of construction activity. We look at the history of vocational education in the UK, setting the background to the current government policy towards vocational and technical education. It is noted that there has been a bias towards higher education in the past, with the vocational sector suffering. Government policy has changed and is now geared towards providing quality training for young people to encourage them to enter vocational professions.