Ensuring the competence of our workforce – for the boom times ahead!

Amongst all the publicity surrounding “impending” major infrastructure projects it would be easy to get carried away in thinking that all is rosy, that there are fortunes to be made for decades to come and employment will be at an all-time high! CITB’s Construction Skills Network (CSN) report indicates a very positive future scenario which is to be welcomed :


However, following an interview I gave to Construction News they published an article last week with the title ‘Booming Welsh forecast pushes firms to hone skills’. The link can be found here :


The point of this interview was to temper expectations for the future with some reality of the current situation as set out in CECA’s Workload Trends Survey ie that the short-term environment is very challenging. Nevertheless, I wanted to highlight the work that was still going on in Wales, despite challenging times, to prepare and grow our workforce for the future.

So, what is happening across Wales?

I mentioned last week, that the Welsh Government’s approach to apprenticeships, as set out in its report Aligning the apprenticeship model to the needs of the Welsh economy is based on analysis by three Regional Skills Partnerships (north, southeast and southwest) of future needs and priority sectors. Fortunately, construction is a priority across Wales, and this linking of investment in training to future economic needs seems like a very sensible approach rather than the potential “scattergun” approach in England via the Apprentice Levy voucher system.

However, to add a broader dimension, it’s worth noting current statistics in relation to employment and levels of economic activity: Key economic statistics. The long-term theme of low unemployment but with high economic inactivity in Wales continues and this is an area which is in serious need of addressing. Is it possible to join the issues of construction sector skills shortages and economic inactivity together? Probably not as easy as it sounds but needs closer attention.

CECA Wales members are continuing to develop a consistent Wales wide apprenticeship for Civil Engineering Construction Operatives (Level 2) with a number of partners including Qualifications Wales and CITB. Could this help to provide a route for those currently economically inactive? Possibly but this apprenticeship is being developed as part of a career pathway which would enable site based workers from trade/vocational backgrounds to have a clearer progression route to supervision and management. The “missing link” at the moment is the “Level 3” type qualification which would help to bridge the gap for those wishing to join the more traditional academic route later in their career. This is an area we are focusing on along with a number of industry partners. Given the rising costs of university education this could become an increasingly attractive route for many – particularly those from less affluent backgrounds.

It’s also worth remembering that we have a very mobile construction workforce in Wales which tends to go where the work is. That’s why it’s important, in a post-devolution era, we ensure that the competencies of our workforce are transferable across the UK despite differences in the way each nation measures and assesses these. We shouldn’t forget that the knowledge, skills and abilities of civil engineers at whatever level are pretty much the same for all 4 nations and so we continue to work together across CECA to ensure this fundamental principle is maintained.

So, that’s a flavour of some of the things that are being done to address our workforce issues.

Despite short term concerns and challenges, the future, albeit dependent on some clear direction and decisions by both the Welsh and UK Governments, is looking positive and that’s why we need to continue to invest in the development of our workforce to ensure we can respond to growth when it comes.