Last edited 23 May 2017

Interview with CITB

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It is fair to say that these are challenging times at present for the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). The skills body is currently working on presenting an offer to the industry ahead of a 'crunch vote' on the future of its levy, which has been threatened by the government's introduction a new Apprenticeship levy.

As well as being the subject of a government consultation, CITB recently carried out its own consultation, with employers asked to give their views on the organisation’s proposals for its levy for 2018. The proposal is to reduce its levy rate from 0.5% to 0.35% of turnover.

As part of their attempt at making themselves more modern and cost-efficient, CITB will also cut jobs from around 1,400 (2016 level) to 950 by 2018.

In January 2017, following the surprise resignation of Adrian Belton, it was announced that Sarah Beale would become Acting Chief Executive, tasked with gearing CITB up for the challenges that lie ahead.

Designing Buildings Wiki chatted with Sarah about those challenges, the future offer being proposed, whether the industry can afford to lose CITB, how the industry can attract more young people, and more...

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Designing Buildings Wiki (DBW):

What’s your personal vision for the CITB?

Sarah Beale (SB):

My longer term vision is that CITB could become a real partner to the industry. That we start to use our evidence base and our funding in order to make strategic interventions that support the industry, but that we start prioritising those against the industry as a whole to get the biggest ‘bang for buck’.


DBW:

Last week Paul Morrell referred to CITB as the ‘designated scapegoat’ of the industry. Is that what it feels like to you?

SB:

It can sometimes feel like we’re never going to keep everybody happy. In turn, there’s an onus on us to make very clear what it is we intend to do and then communicate that really clearly. We also need to communicate what we’re not going to do and what we don’t think we’re here to deliver to industry. As part of our vision we need to stop trying to be all things to all people.

The vision to be a partner will require working with employers, trade associations, and government. If we can all make our roles very clear, we’ll all know what we bring to the party.

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DBW:

What was the response like to the consultation process that was recently held? Were you encouraged by it?

SB:

We were very encouraged actually. Overall, it was positive feedback about what we were presenting.

That’s not to say that our industry weren't very candid about coming forward with more suggestions for other changes. As I say, we’ll never keep every single employer or sector happy at all times, but what it did do is encourage us to believe that our future offer is going in the right direction - doing fewer things but doing them exceptionally well and carving out our role very clearly. We need to then start delivering on our other promises to show the ‘added value’.


DBW:

With the critical skills shortage facing the industry, and with the uncertainties of Brexit complicating matters, surely the industry can’t afford to lose CITB?

SB:

We believe not! We believe we can add much greater value with our future offer.

With the uncertainties, like every other sector is facing at the moment, being able to be that trusted source of evidence so that people know how to plan and know what’s around the corner, and that we start acting now, not just for the skills shortages that are right in front of us today, but those that are anticipated in the future. So I’d say CITB still have a vital role to play in that.

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DBW:

In an interview with us, Mark Farmer said:

‘With all that happening there’ll be the temptation to do something knee-jerk that makes it more popular. There’s a fundamental need, in my opinion, for CITB to act strategically and more joined-up, rather than creating a patchwork quilt of different initiatives.’

Is that a legitimate concern, and how can CITB take a more effective long-term view when, in the short term, it faces such challenges?

SB:

His fear is quite justified and I think we’re not doing that at the moment, despite the fact of facing the consensus process. We are presenting an offer to industry that’s moving away from a pound-in-pound-out mentality, into a ‘pay us the levy and we will make sure the skills come out the other end’ approach.

That’s not an easy message to sell right before a consensus process. But I completely agree with Mark Farmer, it would be wrong for us to do something to buy favour at the cost of the strategic benefit in the long term. It’s always tempting to take that easy path, but I’m a firm believer that if we carry on doing what we’ve always done we’ll end up with the same results.


DBW:

Can you explain the idea behind the national competence register for construction workers?

SB:

There are several purposes to the national register. Firstly, it’s one of several systems that will enable us to automate grant payments so that we can withdraw any need for bureaucracy and administration. People will be able to get grant payments paid automatically by utilising the register.

For us, it will provide a rich evidence base that we can then start to inform standards, qualifications and career paths, because we’ll be able to trace how much CPD people do, whether they are really multi-skilling, whether they move from one occupation to the other, how transient the workforce really is, and so on.

For tens of thousands employers it will remove the need for them to have their own separate registers and maintain/update them. They can have a trusted source to go to, where they know that is the individual they need to recognise, and they can see their qualifications.

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DBW:

Where do you think the construction industry has failed, and continues to fail, to appeal to young people as an attractive career path?

SB:

One of the opportunities facing us right now is to come together as one industry, to start presenting ourselves into schools as a unified industry with a consistent voice and message.

At the moment, there are too many people trying different campaigns and engagements, so we have an opportunity using GoConstruct to start unifying the industry and making sure people know they’ve got one portal to go to for everything.

We’ve got development ideas for how we can then use that system to match potential candidates to work experience, to potential job vacancies, and if we enrich that system with downloadable material it will make it more compelling to careers advisers, teachers, and parents, to start seeing it as a much more creative, opportunistic sector to work in.

We do have 850 construction careers ambassadors, so if we can start using them to consistently get into schools with a consistent message, I think we can really turn it around, but it will mean us all working together.


DBW:

Should schools and careers advisers shoulder more of the responsibility for impressing on young people the opportunities available to them by going into construction?

SB:

There’s an onus on them to bring themselves up to speed on what is available, and not just to sell purely the traditional vision of what joining construction might be, but equally they need the tools and materials to be able to do that.

If we start presenting ourselves as an exciting sector to work in, where you can earn good money and have lots of good career opportunities, naturally careers advisers will pick that up and start selling that to youngsters.

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DBW:

With the ‘crunch vote’ on the Levy later in the year, what is CITB doing to try and convince trade bodies that it should remain in place?

SB:

Rather than convince people of survival for survival’s sake, the onus is on us to show the value that the system is going to bring. We need to communicate that very clearly so people know all of the things we do – which range from the standard setting, the quality assurance, making sure we’ve got the right training and development products – as well as the funding and grant mechanism.

We need to make sure people are well aware of all the activities that their levy contributes towards and how widely it’s used.


DBW:

How can CITB provide assurances to SMEs that they are doing what they can to help them as much as larger firms? In particular, there has been the criticism raised that the reduction to 0.35% will save the largest employers considerably more than SMEs?

SB:

Most of our future offer is intended to benefit SMEs. Of the skills and training fund that we launched in November 2015, we’ve already paid out well over £2 million on that to hundreds of SMEs, many of whom never interacted with our grant scheme, so for the first time they are being incentivised to get involved with more training and of course then we can help them hook up to the grant scheme.

Our future for the grant scheme should really benefit SMEs, taking away all the onus of having to claim which many small/micro companies said they simply didn’t have the time to do, and make it attractive for them to do the training and then get the cash without any burden.

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DBW:

With the general election fast-approaching, what are the biggest issues facing construction right now?

SB:

The main issues are well-versed - we do have an ageing workforce, that’s unlikely to get better with the impact of other things, in which case we need to make ourselves attractive and need to join together.

If there really is a ‘war on talent’, we need to make sure construction is fighting for our share of the talent and bring those people into the industry. There’s a challenge there because a lot of other industries will be in the same position.

Once we’ve created that consistent image and attracted people in, we then need to collaborate better and make sure we create those careers for people, that employers do invest in them, so it's not just about the role of the CITB.

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