And it needs new skills to drive up its productivity.
It must also attract more people to replace those due to retire and potentially those that have been coming in from other parts of the European Union.
Despite growing apprenticeship numbers and increasing volumes of training, we are struggling to meet these needs. Inevitably, this raises questions about what role the CITB should be playing.
These questions will be considered by the Farmer Review and the government’s review of industry training boards announced in the Post-16 Skills Plan, and they are naturally being tackled head on by the CITB itself.
I believe there are three key questions: whether a levy and grant system is still right for construction; what should the CITB’s remit be; and how it should reform to deliver it. These are not rhetorical questions; they are serious and complex.
Ultimately, the first question will be answered when the CITB seeks industry consensus for a new levy order, but we must all work together to answer the others in the run-up – and urgently.
Historically, much of the CITB’s focus has been to get as much money as possible back into the hands of employers in the form of grants and to directly provide high-quality training that gives learners the skills to be safe and productive on site.
The CITB has achieved a lot on both fronts, but it’s obvious from construction’s persistent skills problems that it’s not enough. The levy system must do more than simply cycling funds back to employers – it must add value to them. It must invest in skills and expect strong returns.
What does this mean in practice?
The CITB has listened to industry and will focus on three key priorities to support the critical, collective work the industry struggles to do for itself. These are:
- Careers – to help industry recruit the workforce of the future and map out the opportunities to progress within it;
- Qualifications and standards – to support the development of high-quality, industry-led standards the workforce needs;
- Training and development – to improve employers’ access to affordable, quality training where and when it’s needed.
We will use our funding, our evidence base and our influence to deliver for industry on these fronts.
This requires a much clearer understanding of what skills are most needed, now and in the future, as well as targeting investment increasingly towards skills areas with an industry-wide impact, engaging with employers, government and education and training providers to ensure the right courses are available at a cost that works for industry.
Increasingly, we will do this through partnering with or commissioning the providers who can best deliver them. Recently, for example, the CITB set up a new ASET Scaffolding Academy in Scotland by commissioning a local training partner. We need more of this – an entrepreneurial attitude towards investing in skills.
The forthcoming Farmer Review will remind us that the construction industry, with its traditional structures and ways of working that inhibit investment in skills long term, can’t continue operating how it is now.
Nor can its training board.