Education will unlock our industry’s full potential

Education will unlock our industry’s full potential 23 May 2018

Cardiff-based operations manager, Howard Davies, gives an insight into ISG’s co-developed Level 3 qualification in professional construction practice (PCP) and explores why developing talent is so important for the future prosperity of the construction industry. 

Hands up if you want to change things for the better? If you want healthcare, education, leisure and transport provision to keep on improving. Hands up if you want to leave your mark on the world and create inspirational spaces that help us to live, learn, work and recuperate - providing a legacy that will last for generations? 

Put like this – it’s hard to understand why construction continually struggles to attract the volume and quality of candidates it so desperately needs. Perhaps we don’t properly explain and communicate how problem solving, innovation, entrepreneurship, team work and leadership are core skills developed within our industry. Could this be why the skills shortage in the built environment sector has been an ever-present challenge for many years? 

According to a report by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in November 2017, almost two-thirds of surveyors questioned said a lack of skilled workers is a key factor limiting building activity. This key issue is debated often and reports compiled, yet the industry continues to grapple with this strategic issue, with the main focus of effort being the promotion of traditional apprenticeship routes to encourage young people into the sector.

Mind the gap? 

Tackling the skills gap needs a multi-faceted approach. Two key areas that need to be addressed relate to the overall profile of the industry and the omission of a gateway qualification between Level 2 (GCSE) and further education (FE), that adequately equips students for the next stage of their learning. 

The first of these challenges requires a radical cultural shift in the way society views the role and value of the construction industry. If we cannot erase the negative and outdated stereotypes that plague our industry – then we will never attract the highest calibre talent that we need to drive the sector forward and deliver the transformational change we see in other sectors, such as manufacturing. 

Reset the conversation

We need to change the conversation about construction so that it becomes the aspirational career choice of the brightest and best in our education system. This is an education piece for schools, colleges and most importantly parents and guardians. Our industry is filled with a wealth of talent and expertise – but a disproportionate ratio of our leaders arrived in the industry because a parent or family member worked in the sector. Senior leaders who arrived without any prior knowledge of the sector represent a far smaller percentage than in most other industries because, incorrectly, the perception is that construction is not an elite career choice. Change the conversation and we open up our industry to a much wider talent pool and reap the rewards for generations to come.

Affecting change

The second issue is an area where as a contractor, we can be empowered to take the lead and actually direct that change ourselves – and this is what we did at ISG. Recognising that there was a distinct knowledge gap for students at the Level 3 standard in understanding contemporary construction practice. We’ve partnered with the Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC) to develop the Level 3 Professional Construction Practice diploma, which is worth up to 56 fully transferable UCAS points - the equivalent of an A-level. This means that a learner who completes and passes the course, but decides a construction related career might not be for them, can do just that. After all life is as much about understanding what you do want to do as it’s about knowing what you don’t.

Regardless of the ultimate choice, on this new course, learners are exposed to inter-role communication and collaboration, which after all is a life skill as much as a component of the PCP qualification. Think about it, most other qualifications concentrate on a single genre. I don’t know many jobs like that, do you?

The course is split into four units, and teaches students a wide range of skills through modules including: Designing the Built Environment, Creating the Built Environment, Value and the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM). Several universities have recognised the qualification for degree entry including The University of Salford’s acclaimed built environment school and Wrexham Glyndwr University. 

The course, which very deliberately showcases the new and emerging technologies in contemporary construction practice, is designed to provide learners with a comprehensive framework of knowledge, understanding and promotion of applied skills, that the industry now relies upon. It aims to give rise to an understanding of the diverse roles within the construction industry and yield transferable skills. The qualification will support learners’ progression from Level 1 and 2, particularly in subjects such as Design Technology, Construction, Engineering, Mathematics, Science and Business Studies. 

Not even the automotive or aerospace industries have a qualification like this, its unique in nearly every way and that’s what I find exciting.  

Stepping up to the plate

We’re under no illusion that this is a journey we’re embarking on and there are no short cuts and quick fixes to get a sustainable pipeline of high-quality candidates entering our industry. By changing the conversation about construction and creating a qualification that is both accessible and paints a true picture of our industry, we are taking control of our destiny and the future prosperity of this vital sector. 

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