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Inflation looms as construction fails to tackle skills shortage

Olympic Delivery Authority chairman John Armitt has urged the construction industry to tackle its poor record on training or face spiralling inflation, poor quality work and increased accidents.

His comments came as government training body CITB - Construction Skills published a report showing that construction must recruit an extra 88,400 staff annually between now and 2012.

Speaking at the Chartered Institute of Building's annual dinner last week, Armitt urged industry to take collective responsibility. "The provision of training (in the construction industry) is not matching the demand requirements," he said.

"We must not expect government to deliver a solution – industry alone must be responsible." Armitt said the figures from CITB-Construction Skills showed that there was huge potential shortfall in construction industry workers across the board. He pointed out that there were still not enough young people being trained in work.

He said that with major projects such as the 2012 Olympics, Crossrail and Thameslink underway the industry offered a very positive future but there would be a huge challenge to find workers.

Unless the industry accepted that it had a problem and put steps in place to turn the situation around it would struggle to deliver to either the quality or price demanded, he said.

"We will simply not get the innovation we need and that society expects, unless we address this issue," he added. "What is needed is a collective will. The alternative is higher pay and inflation, poor quality work and more accidents."

CITB's report predicted 5.7% a year growth in UK infrastructure output between 2008 and 2012. This, it said, requires some 12,110 new professional and technical workers plus another 76,280 trade workers to be found each year.

Construction should learn from the music industry if it wants to attract young talent said rail enthusiast and record producer Pete Waterman.

Waterman, who is also chairman of London & North Western railways said construction should grab the attention of children at an early age.
"In the pop industry we do the music for kids but then we introduce them to different stuff later," said Waterman.

Waterman said the solution was to get young schoolchildren on to construction sites across the UK. Some firms already do this: contractor Costain operates a scheme called Building Awareness that enables school parties to visit high profile sites, including its work on the A2 and M25 at Dartford.

A Major Contractors Group spokesman said that health and safety concerns prevented such schemes from becoming more widespread.
Waterman dismissed this view.

"You cannot exclude people because they're under 16 then expect them suddenly when they're 16 to take an interest," he said.
NCE readers this week showed support for Waterman's views: 93% of those polled on were in favour of taking schoolchildren onto site.

- Full interview with Pete Waterman will appear in next week's NCE.

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