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Last edited 19 Feb 2021
The real deal - at last?
Since then, change has been in the air. Andy Mitchell of Tideway has positioned himself as both a more inclusive and more radical CLC Chair. Simultaneously, Mark Reynolds of Mace appears to have hit his stride with the CLC skills workstream: for example, appointing SME representatives to help reduce the previous big project/main contractor bias.
The good news is that this appears more promising than the effort of 2018.
Second, this report, unlike the previous one, acknowledges that construction skills development does not begin and end with the CITB. It explicitly recognises, for example, the role our sector has to play, through the Electrotechnical Skills Partnership, in incorporating smart construction into qualifications.
Finally, and most significantly, the CLC begins to “get to the root of the problem” by accepting that an industry which shirks its responsibilities in employing people will also inevitably fail to train, up-skill and re-skill enough of them. Higher levels of direct employment, it maintains, are a necessary precondition for future innovation and productivity improvement.
This line of reasoning concludes with a call to action which one distinguished, long-term critic of construction reform initiatives confessed led him “nearly to fall off my chair”. It states:
'This report therefore calls for clients to agree a code of employment to level the playing field, where those who contribute to a project are directly employed, thereby ensuring that it is in the employer’s best interest to train their staff and benefit from their improved productivity.'
Having ignored or denied it for over 40 years, this acknowledgement from UK construction sector leaders of the (surely always obvious) link between employment and skills development potentially marks an important turning point. Whether that potential is ever realised, of course, depends on what happens next.
ECA, along with JIB and Unite the Union, have played a big part in lobbying the CLC to prioritise support for direct employment in its Future Skills report. For the CLC’s call to action to have any significant, lasting impact, ECA argues that a client-led code of practice must:
1. Be adopted by as wide a range of clients as possible – including not just high-profile infrastructure mega-projects like Hinkley, Heathrow or HS2, but also more mainstream commercial, residential and public sector work;
3. Aim to secure real and effective change – in other words, avoid being reduced to a procurement-led tick-the-box exercise or PR-led, aspirational spin;
4. Have a clear concept of what is meant by 'direct employment', incorporating both the tax/employment status issues and the degree to which construction activities are carried out in-house or outsourced;
Putting all the above in place should help give the industry at least a fighting chance of achieving the ambitious objectives for skills and innovation which the CLC has set. So, let us travel in hope – and hang onto our chairs.
 About this article
This article was written by Andrew Eldred, ECA Director of Employment and Skills. It was first published in June 2019 on the website of the Electrical Contractors' Association (ECA) and can be accessed here.
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