Ken Skates, Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology
In October this year, Estyn published a thematic review of Training for Construction, Planning and the Built Environment. The review, commissioned as part of Estyn’s annual remit from the Minister for Education and Skills, evaluated the current standards and quality of construction provision in further education institutions and work-based learning providers.
This report was a particularly important one, given the priority placed on construction in promoting economic growth and sustainable development in Wales. Estyn’s report noted that the economic downturn has seen a significant decline in the construction sector over the last four years; however, this makes it even more important that education and training provision is closely matched to industry needs, and that learners are given the skills they need to gain employment and progress in their careers.
I know that there are some excellent examples of innovative construction programmes. I have been particularly impressed by Shared Apprenticeship schemes such as the Carmarthenshire Construction Training Association Ltd (CCTAL) pilot in West Wales and Y Prentis in South East Wales. These schemes allow smaller employers to take on apprentices and have wider social benefits as well, since participants are often involved in community regeneration projects. However, the Estyn review raises some concerns about the overall quality of construction provision across Wales, and makes recommendations about how it can meet the needs of employers and learners more fully.
In the report, Estyn noted that:
Careers guidance is often unclear and often misdirected. In too many cases, school career advisers refer learners, mostly less-able boys, to construction craft training as a suitable career choice. This is often the case with learners who are disruptive in class, have poor attendance records and are generally disillusioned with school. In reality construction may not always be the most appropriate route for these learners.
The ‘family’ of organisations that deliver careers education, information, advice and guidance in Wales is diverse and includes schools, colleges, training providers, the youth service, Careers Wales, Job Centre Plus and the higher education careers service. Estyn has clarified that these comments refer to advice provided by staff in schools, but we recognise the need to improve advice and guidance services to allow young people to make informed learning and career choices.
I chair the ‘Wales Strategic Forum for Career Development’, which brings together the members of the careers family in Wales with employer representatives. Key themes for the Forum include developing the career management skills of young people; education-employer engagement (including work experience); and collective accountability.
My officials are working with a range of partners to develop a strategic project to enhance employer engagement in schools and build capacity to allow schools to deliver Careers and the World of Work more effectively. An outline of the approach will be presented to the Wales Strategic Forum for Career Development in February 2014. This will help to ensure a closer match between the advice given to young people, the available career paths, and employers’ expectations.
Careers Wales is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Welsh Government with a remit to provide independent and impartial advice and guidance. Although no one sector is promoted above any other, careers and work experience opportunities in the construction, planning and built environment sector are promoted where appropriate to individuals receiving advice from Careers Wales. Careerswales.com provides information on working in the construction, planning and built environment sector, including leaflets and video clips from industry professionals.
We will also encourage Careers Wales to work with the sector to provide up to date and informative information on occupations in the construction, planning and the built environment to assist young people in identifying the benefits of pursuing such careers.
As noted in Estyn’s report, some schools are working effectively with colleges to provide ‘work taster’ programmes for 14-16 year olds, and this is extremely valuable in giving young people a full picture of the options available to them and an understanding of the reality of working in the construction industry.
Meanwhile, action is underway to address those Estyn recommendations which are aimed at education and training providers. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), in partnership with CollegesWales, has set up a new Wales Built Environment Strategic Group, which is due to meet for the first time in the next few weeks. Chaired by an FE college principal, the group will take an overview of action being taken in response to the Estyn review, and will focus on ensuring that Construction provision aligns more closely with labour market needs. I welcome the establishment of this group and have asked it to provide me with six-monthly updates on progress.