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Building the Operational Construction Workforce of 2030

Building the Operational Construction Workforce of 2030

The construction workforce needs to be reskilled for the digitised, Net-Zero economy underpinned by modern methods of construction by 2030.  Government’s policy is to support this step change in competency and skills and it plans, working with industry, to both rationalise occupations and upgrade qualifications to match new safety and quality standards by 2027.

At present there are some 1,500 ‘old style’ qualifications on the Ofqual register at level 2 and below in the CITB footprint. Many of these are the same qualification delivered by several Awarding Organisations (AOs) so the number of different qualifications is actually considerably less.

These qualifications are used for two main purposes:

  • Upskilling the existing workforce; and
  • Qualifying new entrants to the workforce that are not coming through an apprenticeship. In this respect for the building and civil engineering part of the industry around 75% of new entrants come through the qualification route rather than through an apprenticeship.

Construction is a carded industry. The NVQ qualifications are still used by CSCS, and its 38 partner schemes, as the primary evidence for issuing a card for people to work in the construction industry. The industry considers that the cards issued by CSCS with its alliance partner schemes are currently the best assurance available to the industry for competency and safety.

The Wolfe Report of 2011 understandably stated that the large number of regulated qualifications was too confusing for employers, parents/guardians and learners.  Since then, for England, the DfE have been implementing a programme of reforms which has reduced the numbers of qualifications and progressively updated occupational/apprenticeship standards in all sectors including construction.

For England, in 2018, the DfE started replacing the old NVQs/VQs with new ‘modern’ better quality standards/qualifications. It established IfATE and its construction employers route panel as the main authority for occupational/apprenticeship standards to replace the old NOS; with Ofqual as the regulatory governmental body. Wales is taking a similar, but different approach and Scotland has now started a series of working groups to also replace the old NOS/SVQs with more up to date and better-quality qualifications and apprenticeships.

The present position in construction is that IfATE’s route panel has approved occupational/apprenticeship standards for the main trades at level 2. IfATE’s role does not extend to qualifications below level 2. Therefore DfE and Ofqual will approve qualifications at level 1 and entry level. From 1 August 2023 all the elements of the traineeship programme will be funded through Study Programme funding and the Adult Education Budget and providers with access to funding can still offer traineeship-type programmes for young people who need support to get into work, apprenticeships, or further learning.

The standards at level 2 do not cover all the occupations and pathways covered by many of the registered Ofqual qualifications, nor do they currently provide a basis for up-skilling adults and the existing workforce in areas such as greening, digitisation and modern methods such as off-site manufacturing.  

DfE has announced that they are streamlining the qualifications offer and improving quality. This is expected to further reduce the numbers of qualifications by reforming the funding of all construction qualifications at level 2 and below ready for delivery starting in September 2025 and finishing in 2027.  

The published approach is:

  • In the first cycle, which will launch in the spring for level 2, DfE are only looking for level 2 technical qualifications (leading to employment) to be submitted in some occupational routes, including construction. More information on cycle 1 dates will be published in the spring;
  • Cycle 2 – qualifications funded from 2026 will cover everything not covered in Cycle 1; and
  • Level 1 qualifications will be in cycle 3.

It has also announced major changes to occupational traineeship and study programmes, as well as introduced bootcamps.

Government is aiming to fund new qualifications that:

  • Align to employer-led occupational standards, the same standards that already underpin apprenticeships and T Levels:

The challenge here is that not all trades have an IfATE approved occupational/apprenticeship standard and even where they do the apprenticeship standard does not provide a basis for upskilling the existing workforce nor in many cases for ‘partial’ occupations or pathways. The DfE has recognised this and some of the approval categories do not require rigid adherence to the KSBs in standards.  The on-site T Level is currently not recognised as a route to competency, CSCS carding or employment, although work is now commencing on addressing this. The on-site T Level does not include all building trades nor for civil engineering, infrastructure and specialist skills (50% of the existing workforce); and

  •  Every qualification approved for public funding is of high quality, necessary, has a distinct purpose, and supports progression to good outcomes:

Considering this aspect, all existing NVQs and VQs are based on the NOS [which DfE moved away from in 2018] developed by CITB with construction employers. Accordingly, NVQs/VQs may not match in all cases the DfE view of “high quality, necessary, has a distinct purpose, and supports progression to good outcomes” criteria. As mentioned, NVQs are still the mainstay of the CSCS and partner schemes. So, we are likely to need to retain some of these existing NVQS/VQs until we have designed replacements which match both industry’s requirements for 2030 and Government’s criteria for funding.

These criteria may not yet reflect the upskilling required by employers for the existing workforce nor the move to greener, digitised and modern methods of working.

Following discussions with DfE, CITB, CCATF and BACH, the Skills Minister has agreed the Industry and AOs can use a collaborative approach to complement the ESFA/DfE/IfATE’s programme of reform. AOs will then individually make the submission.

Accordingly, the construction sector plans to co-ordinate its views through CITB’s Build Environment Awarding Body Forum being the central focus for the awarding organisations input. The work will aim to support and match the output from the work of the four workstreams being progressed by the CLC’s People & Skills Network. Further details regarding the review and the background rationale please see attached “Building the Operational Construction Workforce of 2030”. Individual AOs will make their submissions as required by DfE.

This alternative approach is aimed at both supporting the CLC’s plans and the Government’s need for reform, thus modernising construction standards and qualifications ready for 2030, including the changes needed for greening, digitisation and modern methods of construction. The work will draw on a wide range of stakeholders and trade bodies in the sector; drawn together through CITB's employer engagement team. AOs will not be forced to work this way if they prefer to submit qualifications to the approvals process without taking part in this co-ordination.

The programme of activity, supported and coordinated by CITB with input from others would:

  • Ensure that the work supports and matches the CLC’s Industry Skills Strategy and Business Plan and integral to this the direction and needs coming out on the four CLC People & Skills Network Groups on “Routes into Industry”, “Competence”, “Skills for a Modern Industry” and ‘Culture Change”.
  • Review and rationalise all the existing NOS and pathways to produce a coherent set of occupations and pathways for the industry. This needs to recognise the requirement for both ‘full’ and ‘partial/foundation’ competencies as we do not necessarily need everyone to be ‘fully’ competent at everything.
  • Establish a clear agreement with CSCS on the definition of competency and how we evidence and ensure such competency is kept up to date. This would embrace the work CITB is due to commence in April 2023 on routes to competency and greening of skills, which needs to embrace how occupational traineeships, study programmes and bootcamps for feeder training provision into apprenticeship or qualifications and hence competency for employment.
  • Agree a modularised structure for the training curriculum/standards that allows parts to be separated out that will provide the basis for up-skilling the existing workforce.
  • Identify the priorities for upgrading and reforming all the occupations with their inherent modules.
  • Review the qualifications and the modules with a view to designing new ones to replace the current qualifications in a staged and managed way for IfATE approval. This would include identifying qualifications that might no longer meet the industry’s changing future needs.
  • Advise DfE on the appropriate times.

CITB can support the programme of reform by utilising the long-established Built Environment Awarding Body Forum (BEABF) to co-ordinate the inputs of all AOs working in construction. This Forum has been used for similar purposes many times in the past. CITB will work with the CLC to ensure compatibility its work.

The ambition of achieving a competent, skilled and progressive workforce in the UK, and the construction sector in particular is a shared vision. Successfully navigating a pathway benefiting all stakeholders must be the way to achieve this.

A copy of the "Building the Operational Construction Workforce of 2030 can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/4htme7j8


Martyn Price, MBE               Graham Hasting Evans
Chair, CCATF                      Chief Executive, NOCN Group 
                                        MSc, C.Eng MICE, FIC-CMC, President BACH



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