Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Training for Success

23 January 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Jimmy Spratt (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Ms Anna Lo
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Basil McCrea
Mr Robin Newton
Mr Alistair Ross

Witnesses:
Mr John Armstrong ) Construction Employers Federation
Mr Ciarán Fox )

The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey):
I welcome John Armstrong and Ciarán Fox of the Construction Employers Federation (CEF). Thank you for your submission.

Members will recall that the federation wrote to the Committee outlining some issues relating to the Training for Success programme. The construction industry plays a significant role in the programme, and its views are important for our monitoring purposes; therefore the session will be reported by Hansard. I know that its reporters are under pressure, so I thank them for their attendance today.

John and Ciarán will brief the Committee, and then we will open the meeting up for questions. The session will be informal, so members will simply flow with their questions.

Mr John Armstrong (Construction Employers Federation):
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to address the Committee this morning. I am the managing director of the Construction Employers Federation, and my colleague, Ciarán Fox, is involved in policy issues. We thought that it would be useful to give you a brief overview of the construction industry and its importance to the economy and of the federation and its views on apprenticeship arrangements.

The construction industry is probably the biggest industrial sector in Northern Ireland, with an output of approximately £3·2 billion, which represents about 14% of the gross value added (GVA) for the Province. More than 80,000 people are engaged in it, so it is hugely important to the economy.

The Construction Employers Federation is the employers’ representative body and trade association for the industry. We are the only certified employers’ organisation for the industry, so we have an important role in developing and setting policy. Moreover, the federation and the trade unions form the Joint Council for the Building and Civil Engineering Industry in Northern Ireland. The Joint Council sets and establishes wage rates and terms and conditions for the industry. We have a particular interest, as do our union colleagues, in the training of young people.

Several years ago, the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) mooted that Jobskills was coming to an end, and the industry was advised that it was an opportunity to come up with a model for providing young people with apprenticeships in construction. Therefore with our union colleagues, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) and the colleges, which were represented by the Association of Northern Ireland Colleges (ANIC), we came up with a model based on a period of pre-apprenticeship training for young people.

We envisaged that the duration of the pre-apprenticeship would be flexible and that the young people would receive basic instruction and training — particularly in health and safety. The Committee will know that training in health and safety is vital for people who work on construction sites.

It was also envisaged that issues regarding essential skills would be addressed during the pre-apprenticeship period, and there would be an assessment of the individual’s aptitude and capability for a trade. A young person may think that they want to be a joiner, for instance, but with experience and work sampling, they may discover that they are better suited to a different trade.

Critical to our model, the young people would become fully employed by a construction company as soon as they finished their pre-apprenticeship, and they would be paid the appropriate joint council wage rates for apprentices. Not only would that provide a degree of certainty for the young person’s future, but it would give him or her a sense of belonging — something that was lacking with Jobskills, as young people did not feel that they belonged to any company. That contributed to many of the failings of Jobskills.

The model that we suggested to the Department was a construction-specific model, and the Department noted at the time that it would not be looking for a one-size-fits-all replacement for Jobskills for all industrial sectors. In the meantime, we have been frustrated with the implementation of Training for Success, because it does not reflect the model that the industry put forward.

Mr Ciarán Fox (Construction Employers Federation):
I would like to go briefly through our paper ‘Monitoring the Implementation of Training for Success: The Construction Industry Perspective’. The Committee’s first term of reference asked whether the providers of training programmes were fully equipped to deliver high-quality training. It appears that they are not.

After 13 weeks of TFS, only 40% of candidates for construction apprenticeships are fully employed as apprentices after 13 weeks. Employment from day one was supposed to be the big policy shift for the new training programme compared with Jobskills, which was a non-employed programme that offered placements. During the 13-week period, the 60% non-employed trainees were supposed to receive 35 hours’ training a week, but — due to financial and staff resources — most training providers found it impossible to deliver that. As a result, training providers offered a variety of programmes for trainees: three days’ training and two days’ placement with an employer; two days’ training and three days’ placement with the employer; or three days’ training with no employment, and the young person is left to do whatever he or she wants for the other two days. Some training providers have taken on a trainee for five days and somehow made things work; however, that has not been applied uniformly, and the consequences are serious. I will talk about them later.

Due to the late implementation of Training for Success and the vagueness of some of the tender documents, the colleges were unsure about what they were being asked to implement until well into the year — as late as June or July. The programme was to roll out from September, but there was a lack of clarity about what colleges were being required to do. That puts them at a disadvantage in providing the highest-quality training or in ensuring that they have the proper resources in place. We have also been concerned about that.

The second term of reference relates to geographical coverage, which is not of particular concern to us. Employers and training providers have not raised that as an issue in construction. Our focus is on whether Training for Success is firmly aligned to the needs of local industry, business sectors, and particularly the construction industry.

I will begin by giving the Committee a view of what happened during the first 13 weeks of the programme. CITB has told us that more than 2,000 construction trainees are enrolled on Training for Success. At this stage of the year, trainees fall into three main categories: those who have been fully employed as apprentices; those who are on a non-employed training programme with a work placement; and those who are on a non-employed training programme without a work placement. As I said earlier, only 40% of construction trainees are fully employed; the other 60% are not.

We are very disappointed with such a low rate of employment, which is due to how Training for Success has been implemented. The change from Jobskills could have been an opportunity to establish an apprenticeship scheme that employers could buy into from the start; however, that has not happened.

One of the big questions for the Committee is whether we are moving back towards Jobskills. The industry really does not want that; it would not be good for young people, and I am sure that the Committee would not want it either. Jobskills was criticised heavily because, in effect, it provided free labour, and we are concerned that, to a degree, that has crept into Training for Success.

In the 13-week period from September until December some training providers released people to employment for up to three days a week and trained them for only two days. That creates a twin-track system, because some employers are taking young people on, giving them fully paid employment for three days and releasing them to college for two days; on the other hand, some employers do not pay a penny. In fact, the young person is being paid £40 a week by the Government to do exactly the same thing. That is fundamentally what we did not wish to see happen, since it is a return to the same idea as Jobskills. If businesses are offered two alternatives, one of which is free and the other costs money, it is easy to assume which one they will take.

It is our understanding that work placements were not supposed to happen during the 13-week period; however, people do not always follow the rules, and placements happened because there were insufficient resources to deal with the young people. It is important to note that those young people had decided that they did not want to follow an academic path. They had been going to school from 9.00 am to 3.00 pm, and they suddenly found themselves in a classroom for 35 hours a week. The colleges could not provide a different environment, and that was their way of dealing with the problem.

The Construction Employers Federation is also alarmed that, as we enter the 13- to 26-week period, under the rules, students who are non-employed can be released to employment for two days a week. Moreover, after 26 weeks the colleges are allowed to release trainees to employment for three days. That is one of our major concerns about the return to a Jobskills-style apprenticeship.

We are also trying to establish the extent of the problem for the construction industry. Over the past year we have been asking DEL how many of the apprenticeships in Northern Ireland over the past few years were in construction. In the South, roughly 70% to 80% of all apprenticeships are construction-related. The initial feedback that we received from DEL gave us figures that were grossly different from those that we received from CITB. DEL told us that there were about 1,000 construction-related apprenticeships; whereas CITB, which got its figures from going round the colleges on two separate occasions, told us that there were more than 2,000 a year on average.

It was very difficult to get an idea of the quantum of construction apprentices. If it was 70%, that is all the more reason that construction should be given a special place in the system to ensure that apprentices are treated properly.

Our next concern is the lack of employer engagement. Training for Success depends on employer engagement; it is no longer training-led but employer-led. Employers take on the young person; they pay them — we hope — from day 1 for five days a week, even though they will be training for one or two of those days. That should have provided us with an opportunity to disseminate information and to encourage employers to take on apprentices. Unfortunately, to our great regret, DEL has not approached us with such information, support and promotion, and, even in June and July, we were unable to tell our member firms what the new arrangements were. That is very difficult for an employers’ organisation. We want to tell people about the benefits of Training for Success, which is a step away from Jobskills — under which people are non-employed — to apprentices being employed, trained, and receiving a proper wage, which makes them feel that they belong to the company for which they work.

There is no standard approach to training. If a young person was lucky enough to get an apprenticeship with a company and be fully employed, in certain parts of Northern Ireland they would train one day a week; in other parts for two days a week. Therefore the industry cannot be sure what programme an apprentice will follow, what modules they follow at college, and how long that will take. There is no consistency, and consistency helps in the promotion of any programme that is rolled out across Northern Ireland.

Our concern is that Training for Success does not match up to the industry’s needs. Apprentices are vital to the success of our industry, so it is important that we raise the standing of apprenticeships to show the public that they are valued. One way to do that is through a proper wage structure. The CEF is the employers’ organisation that agrees the wage structure, along with the trade unions, through the joint council. The wage structure is laid out for each period of the apprenticeship and any achievements in it from the first year through to the achievement of NVQ level 3.

At the moment, DEL provides funding without any requirement to pay a particular wage. Our understanding is that employers can pay an apprentice as little as £40 a week, which matches the money that a young person would get on a non-employed training programme. That is not what Training for Success set out to do.

Although it is not our direct area of interest, the final term of reference asked whether the new arrangements for training provision under Training for Success:

“… adhere to the highest employee and resource management standards?”

We are concerned that Training for Success does not use its financial resources to the best of its ability. I made a quick calculation. Training for Success set out with the premise that it would try to get as many people as possible into employment as apprentices from the start. Consider construction alone: say that half the 2,000 trainees have not gone into paid employment for the 13-week period: training allowance to keep 1,000 apprentices in training at £40 a week over 13 weeks will cost more than £500,000. Had they had gone into employment, they would be doing two days a week training being paid by an employer for the whole time. There should have been more of a drive to get young people into employment. Every person who enters employment saves the Government money, since the Government no longer have to pay a subsidy for the young person.

What steps are being taken now to find employment as an apprentice for the young people who have gone through the 13-week phase without gaining employment? What will happen to those who have not even got a placement? What happens after 52 weeks to the young people who have obtained a placement? Will they have sufficient skills to attract employers? There are many questions. I have tried to keep my discussion paper brief, but there are many other smaller issues that must be addressed.

The Chairperson:
Thank you for your presentation. I have a few questions to ask before I hand over to the Deputy Chairperson and the members. The Committee is genuinely concerned about the Training for Success programme and related issues connected to Jobskills. I know that young people have been used as cheap labour. We must strike a balance to ensure that apprenticeships are available, but I know of young people who have been put to one side after 12 or 13 weeks. There is a continuous cycle of young people going in and out of those programmes.

Mr J Armstrong:
That is absolutely right, and it is accepted that that is how it was under Jobskills. In many cases, as Ciarán said, apprentices were churned out and regarded as nothing more than cheap labour. One of the positive aspects of the model that we have presented to the Department is that the industry would take responsibility for ensuring that, after pre-apprenticeship training, those young people would be placed with employers and paid the appropriate wages. That is one of the crucial changes in our model. Unfortunately, it has not been adopted.

The Chairperson:
I wish to tease out some of those issues because the Committee will produce a report on the Training for Success programme. In your letter of 8 January to the Committee you say that due to difficulties with the governance of ConstructionSkills, which is the sector skills council for the construction industry, it does not represent employers’ views on training and skills development.

Mr J Armstrong:
CITB was statutorily established in Northern Ireland under the Industrial Training (Construction Board) Order 1964 to ensure the provision of appropriate or adequate training for those entering or working in the construction industry. The industry pays a levy to the CITB, which subsidises and supports training by way of grants.

Several years ago, the UK Government introduced sector skills councils; the construction council is known as ConstructionSkills. In Great Britain, the equivalents of CITB and ConstructionSkills have almost completely merged. The principle behind ConstructionSkills is that it is employer-led. The issue that you refer to, quite rightly, is that in Northern Ireland the CITB has been put in a very difficult position in maintaining its statutory responsibilities as a levy-raising organisation and incorporating the role of ConstructionSkills. The issues revolve primarily around the lack of engagement with employers. However, the federation is working with the CITB and the Department to resolve the issue. I hope that that has given you an overview of the matter.

The Chairperson:
Yes, it has. Your briefing mentions the lack of employer engagement. Ciarán, are you being told on the one hand that there are 1,000 apprenticeships and on the other that there are 2,000?

Mr Fox:
If I may, I will address the issue of employer engagement first. An employers’ organisation with 1,000 members has a great opportunity to show those members a new package for apprenticeships that is a move away from Jobskills — something that they always wanted, and that pays apprentices the proper rate. However, we have not been given a pack to send to our members; therefore, we cannot tell them that Training for Success is great and that they should sign up to it, even though it is not exactly what the industry asked for. Training for Success is supposed to be employer-led: the most important body to engage with is the employers. In our submission to the consultation on Training for Success we recommended four principles, and flexibility was one of them. I cannot remember what the others were, but we said that the fourth principle should be employer engagement. Unfortunately, we did not get a response to that.

Training for Success is a change of mindset from the Jobskills programme, which was training-led. However, that culture has not changed. To work, Training for Success must be employer-led, as it will be the employers who take on the apprentices, pay them and ensure that they go through the training properly.

The statistical point was mainly for us to get our heads round how big the problem was. DEL’s figures show that over the past three years only about 1,000 construction apprentices are joining the scheme each year. CITB then told us that the figure was 2,000. We want to know the size of the problem that we have to deal with.

The Chairperson:
If you have not had direct involvement from the Department, there is no guidance on wages; it opens the system to abuse. Good, decent employers will take the young person through the scheme, but others will use the scheme to their advantage.

Mr J Armstrong:
That is one of our key frustrations. Training for Success could have placed the onus on the industry. It would be an industry-led programme but it would also give us the responsibility of ensuring that appropriate employment was provided for young people.

Our proposal to the Department was that after the pre-apprenticeship period everybody would be employed and would be paid the wage that the joint council laid down for apprentices. In the first six months, an apprentice under the age of 21 should receive £133·77 a week, and on completion of NVQ level 3 it should rise to £352·17 a week. Employers would have to commit to pay those amounts, and it would be our responsibility to ensure that they take on that further responsibility. That is a big opportunity and, so far, it has been missed by the Department.

Mr Fox:
In the paper that we submitted to DEL in October 2008, we asked whether employers could be told that they would not get DEL funding unless they paid appropriate wages. Everyone responds well to incentives. Employers should be told that they can get their money from DEL but that they must pay young people proper wages, as opposed to £40 a week. Does giving apprentices £40 a week show that we value them? I think not.

We have not had an answer to that question. There may be some legislative reason why DEL cannot have grants dependent on the amount paid to apprentices, but it is something to consider.

The Chairperson:
I have a couple of other points that I will come back to later. Training for Success amazes me every week.

Mr Spratt:
Thank you for your presentation. Training for Success also amazes me. Ciarán referred to the procurement process, which is something that we have been exercised about and we have given it some serious concern. He said that there was a vagueness about what was being prepared or about what was being asked for in the procurement process; that those who were successful were unable to provide quality training at the end of the day; and that training for the construction industry was not aligned to its needs.

Can you elaborate on your concerns regarding procurement? That would be helpful to the Committee, particularly as this meeting is being recorded by Hansard. After that, I would like to discuss your consultation, as it was a very good paper.

Mr Fox:
The federation was not involved in the procurement exercise; however, we consulted the colleges that are heavily involved in construction. In their feedback to us, the colleges said that they were not sure what they were supposed to provide. They felt that they had no option but to submit a bid for that work, although they were unsure about what they were supposed to provide and whether the costs that they submitted would be enough to deliver the training package.

Mr Spratt:
If I understand correctly, are you telling us that what was being asked for in the procurement process was vague and that the colleges did not fully understand what they were bidding for?

Mr Fox:
Yes, although I would not put it as strongly as that. It was not that they did not understand at all, but there was a lack of clarity. The colleges had to submit a bid, but they were unsure about certain elements of what they were bidding on.

The process was very rushed. Although the Training for Success consultation was in September 2006, nothing came out of it until the start of 2007, when only the most high-level responses were released. Information came through gradually over the following months, but the tendering process was delayed until late spring, and before long the September term was approaching. At that stage, the colleges had made their bids; however, they were still not absolutely sure about what they were being asked to deliver. According to the feedback received by the federation, the colleges felt that they were not entirely sure how to deliver the required training.

Mr Spratt:
Why could the colleges not provide the required quality of training?

Mr Fox:
It is very straightforward: the colleges were being asked to provide 35 hours’ training over five days a week for people who were not in employment, and many of the colleges did not feel that it was possible to deliver that. As a result— although it was probably also a hangover from the old Jobskills way of doing things — there were young people in employment for two or three days a week; however, as they were on placement they were on a non-employed strand. That came about because the colleges felt that they could not cater for the trainees for the required time.

Mr Spratt:
Therefore the needs of the industry have suffered.

Is the paper that you submitted to the Committee the paper that you supplied to the Department during the consultation?

Mr J Armstrong:
No; the paper supplied to the Committee is an up-to-date paper. Our submission to the Department in 2006 was very detailed and involved significant discussions with the Department before and during the consultation and full details of the suggested model. We can supply that to the Committee.

Mr Spratt:
That might be worthwhile. The Chairperson mentioned the £40 a week that trainees are paid, which is a pretty basic sum. You said that employers would give the proper rates; how would those compare to the £40 a week?

Mr J Armstrong:
The proper rates vary for apprentices under the age of 21 and for those over the age of 21, so I will give you both figures. An apprentice who is under 21 will be paid £133·77 a week for the first six months of their apprenticeship, rising to £179·40 after six months. On the completion of NVQ 3 — in essence, the full modern apprenticeship — the rate of pay increases to £352·17 a week. The only real difference for an apprentice over the age of 21 is that the weekly payment is £179·40 for the first six months, rising to £352·17 on completion of NVQ3. Those rates are laid out in the blue book and are agreed by the joint council as part of the wage negotiations and the wage deal from the industry.

Mr McCausland:
You made the case that the construction industry is particularly important to the economy, and what you said is disturbing. Apart from colleges, are there any other training providers?

Mr Fox:
In addition to the colleges, there are private training providers.

Mr McCausland:
How many private training providers are involved in the sector?

Mr Fox:
I am not sure; there might be a handful or there might be 10.

Mr McCausland:
How long are the contracts for?

Mr Fox:
I do not know; that is a question for the colleges.

Mr McCausland:
You said that certain shortcomings have been identified; are those more prevalent in the colleges or in the private training providers?

Mr Fox:
We are not aware of any distinction.

Mr J Armstrong:
The feedback has predominantly come from the colleges but, as Ciarán said, we are not aware of any distinction.

Ms Lo:
Thank you for your presentation. I read through your submission last night and am very concerned. Jobskills was replaced so that young people would not be exploited as had previously been the case. I am concerned about those colleges that are slipping back to the Jobskills model of sending people on non-payment placements. Does DEL inspect or monitor those colleges?

The Chairperson:
Before Christmas, the Department said that it would come back to the Committee with a report on the first six months of the Training for Success scheme.

Ms Lo:
That is not correct practice. I agree that paying young people £40 a week is not the way to attract them into the industry — £40 is very little after bus fares and lunches have been paid for. We had a letter from some teachers in the colleges about that.

Mr Fox:
I am told that for the non-employed stream, travel is paid for by the Government, but I agree with you that £40 a week is very little.

Ms Lo:
Indeed it is. From your chart in the papers, they should be paid much more. That is not the way to treat our young people and not the way to attract them into a career in a valuable industry. I am very concerned about colleges and employers exploiting young people. The Committee must talk to DEL about engagement with employers. I agree that the process is too rushed and that there is a lack of preparation. I also agree that the solution should be employer-led — employers should be at the forefront, and DEL officials must get their skates on to work with employers on the matter.

Mr J Armstrong:
You have picked up on one of the crucial issues: as I hope we have outlined, construction is a huge and vitally important industry. Under the investment strategy, some £18 billion will be spent; the industry has a social and moral responsibility to train and provide young people with opportunities under that strategy. If Training for Success does not work, there is a danger of an over-reliance on migrant workers. Although migrant workers provide a very useful input, an over-reliance on them means that we are not providing opportunities for our young people, which will create problems for the economy in the not too distant future.

Mr Fox:
We have two distinct concerns about colleges. The first is the situation of the past 13 weeks, where colleges did not feel that they had the resources to provide the 35 hours’ full-time training a week and consequently sent people on placements with employers.

Equally, after 13 weeks under the rules of the Training for Success programme, young people can go to an employer two days a week — and that work is unpaid. After 26 weeks, the rules state that they can go to an employer for up to a maximum of three days a week. Therefore it is not just a question of the colleges not being able to deliver the full-time training in the 13-week period: it is what is laid out under the rules of the Training for Success programme for the next two periods.

The Chairperson:
Ciarán, you mentioned the need for discussions. The federation is seen as one of the lead organisations in this matter, but it does not have direct contact with the Department? That is a crucial issue.

It is also important to point out that one size does not fit all. Every young person is different.

Mr Fox:
Absolutely.

The Chairperson:
My nephew is an apprentice. He will get out of bed every morning at 6 o’clock to go to work, but on the mornings that he has to go to college, he does not get out of bed. A balance must be struck: we must ensure that young people get what they are looking for and that their rights are protected, not abused; however, we must also ensure that they get their qualifications at the end of their apprenticeship.

Mr Fox:
From the start of the consultation until 2007 we were in constant contact with DEL; we had regular meetings to lay out our fears. In fact, I remember saying at a meeting in late spring of 2007 that we were very concerned about the implementation of this programme, because we did not feel that it would result in anywhere near 100% of young people going into employment. A package must be on offer to employers; the programme must be made attractive to them. The incentive structure has to be right, and the employers must be knowledgeable about their rights and responsibilities.

Unfortunately, those points were not taken on board. Even so, we have continued to work with DEL. We met the Department in September to ask whether a package could be put in place to try to rescue the situation this year. The federation sent a document on 30 October and received a response just last week, which was part of an attempt to move matters forward for this year. We are continuing with our efforts, because we must keep on battling for progress for next year. We recently met DEL and CITB to discuss what structure could be put in place for next year, but there is still the problem of those 1,000 young people who are on the non-employed training strands for this year’s intake. We can continue to work with DEL to find a solution for next year’s intake, and, I hope, achieve a much better rate of employment and retention. However, that is next year — this year still has to be dealt with.

Mr Attwood:
Like other Members, I, too, thank the witnesses for their attendance today; their presentation was evidence-based and clear-sighted. Some critical issues have been highlighted, and the Committee must address them with DEL quickly, either in writing or by inviting officials to appear before the Committee.

First, does the federation have problems with recruiting young people into the construction industry in general? Despite your reservations about Training for Success and how young people are being trained, is there an identifiable gap between the numbers that the federation thinks the industry needs and the numbers of people that are available? It was clear from Tuesday’s debate in the House on apprenticeships that there is a gap in some industries.

Secondly, given the proposals in the draft Programme for Government and the draft investment strategy, even if sufficient numbers were being put through training programmes and being trained properly, would those numbers be sufficient to satisfy what the federation thinks the industry demand will be over, say, the next five years?

Thirdly, even if the numbers were satisfactory, does the federation believe that the training that trainees receive will be of a sufficient standard to meet the industry’s needs?

Finally, it is one thing to say that the Department has not issued guidance about wages, and so on — and that matter must be pursued — but there is another factor to be considered is there honestly not an element in construction that does not want to pay the proper wage? As the big construction employers’ organisation, are you telling such employers that they are letting the industry down? What will you do about that?

Mr J Armstrong:
There has not been a huge problem with attracting young people into the industry, although Jobskills, which was the old system, was not particularly good at attracting kids. Over the last couple of years, construction has been going through a successful time, particularly in house building, and young people are beginning to see that there are very good career opportunities in construction.

The careers advisory staff of the Construction Industry Training Board do very good work in schools making pupils — even in primary schools — aware of the opportunities available in the construction industry. Other organisations do similar work, so recruitment has not been a huge problem. However, the method of entry has not been particularly attractive, because most young people who want to go into vocational training do not want to sit in classrooms; they want to be out doing the job, so there has to be a shift in emphasis.

Mr Fox:
As regards supply and demand, plenty of people seem to want to come into construction. As in any industry, as the market goes up and down, the demand for apprenticeships will fluctuate, and this year the demand may be lower because of the downturn in housing. We have suggested a way to regulate supply and demand flow to clarify matters for young people and employers by asking employers to register their interest over the summer for the type of apprentice that they are looking for. That will create a list of employers’ needs or at least a significant number of them; after all, we cannot reach every corner of the industry. However, we could reach most of them, and that would enable us to guarantee a certain number of places.

Mr J Armstrong:
We would like to know whether there is sufficient provision in the Programme for Government and the investment strategy.

Several years ago the public sector carried out a major survey of the construction industry’s capacity and capability of delivering for the investment strategy, and the Construction Employers Federation had an active input in that. To date, the industry has not been stretched, so there is no problem with capacity.

We believe that our proposed apprenticeship model provides a very good training standard for young people. Assessment of their capability and aptitude in the pre-apprenticeship training is vital, after which they will go through a properly structured apprenticeship over a two- or three-year period that will lead to the completion of the full modern apprenticeship.

The final question was whether the industry would buy into that. It is true that the industry has a mixed reputation, and there is a natural temptation in any business to take the least expensive route.

As an employers’ organisation, we are concerned with raising standards in the industry and promoting good opportunities on a level basis. Our message is that if employers want to be with the Construction Employers Federation, they must adhere to those standards. That is an important message, because there will always be a small rump that will take the less appropriate route.

We have 1,000 members across the full spectrum of construction, and we represent 72·4% of the total output of the industry. We accept that we have a responsibility to get the message to employers that they must employ people on a proper basis and pay them proper wages.

Mr Fox:
Sometimes people’s hands have to be forced, and the way to do that is by telling them that if they want the grant they must pay the proper wage. That makes a big difference.

We are also working with the Central Procurement Directorate, which is looking at whether apprentices can be brought in through public-sector spending on construction projects, where once again it can made clear that the proper wages must be paid to make the arrangement official.

The Chairperson:
You have given us some interesting facts and information. There is another evidence session next week with Department officials, and I am sure that some of those issues will come up then.

Thank you for your presentation. If you have more information, please feel free to inform the Committee.

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