IMPROVING THE SKILLS OF THE CONSTRUCTION WORKFORCE
35. The construction workforce needs appropriate
skills to design and construct good quality buildings that are
efficient; cost effective; and safe to construct, maintain and
operate. The workforce also needs to be able to take advantage
of latest advances in technology which have good potential to
improve all aspects of construction. Between 1994 and 1998, however,
applications for construction-related courses run by universities
for professional staff fell by 26 per cent. In addition, the Construction
Industry Training Board's
Business Plan for 19992000
estimated that, over the next five years, 300,000 people will
need to be recruited just to replace those leaving the construction
industry. There is a risk therefore that the industry is becoming
reliant on a less skilled workforce.
36. We asked the Department of the Environment, Transport
and the Regions whether greater national economic stability would
mean that construction companies had more incentives to invest
in developing the skills of their work force, because the risk
of having to shed labour and waste such investment in the event
of an economic recession every few years was reduced. The Department
said that the construction industry's
low profit levels provided little incentive for companies to train
and develop their staff. The industry's
workforce was also ageing: only nine per cent were women and only
two per cent from ethnic minorities. That balance had to change
if the industry was to attract and retain people.
37. In the context of what they were doing to avoid
the cost of construction projects increasing because of a skills
shortage, the Department said that the initiatives they had underway
to improve the performance of the construction industry were also
intended to make it an attractive employment opportunity so that
those who joined would want to stay. The Department for Education
and Employment were responsible for promoting industrial training.
The Committee asked whether the construction industry recognised
that it was in its own interest to train its staff. The Department
said that a leading number of companies in the industry recognised
the need to improve their performance in recruiting and retaining
staff. But to do so the industry needed to improve health and
safety and site conditions and welfare as well as training. In
February 2001 action to improve standards of training had been
agreed by the Confederation of Construction Clients and representatives
of major contractors, whereby they committed themselves to having
a fully qualified workforce on their projects by the end of 2003.
The construction industry's
capacity to meet the growth in departments'
expenditure on construction
38. Government departments'
spending on construction is planned to increase following the
Spending Review 2000, which doubled net public investment in infrastructure
on transport, schools and hospitals over the next three years
billion. We asked the Office of Government Commerce and the Department
of Environment, Transport and the Regions what action they were
taking to ensure that the construction industry had the capacity
to carry out the work required by this increase in public expenditure.
They said that it was important for departments to have an open
dialogue with the construction industry so that they knew of departments'
construction spending plans well in advance . The Office of Government
Commerce said that their initiatives to drive out waste in the
construction process should free up significant amounts of companies'
resources to allow them to cope with the planned increase in construction
39. The Committee welcomes the commitment made by
the Confederation of Construction Clients and major contractors
to work to achieving a fully qualified workforce by the end of
2003. The Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions
should work closely with the industry to develop and monitor plans
to improve technical and professional skills so that it can recruit,
train and retain a skilled workforce.
31 C&AG's report HC 87 (20002001), para 1.15 Back
and Evidence, Appendix 2, pp 1819 Back
report HC 87 (20002001), para 1, Qs 6667, 69 Back