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Training and development

Debate

Debate over the quality of construction training has been raging for years. Are degrees too academic and no use for employers? Do employers duck out of investing in your professional development? Or do construction firms value and reward training? This week we ask: Does the construction industry take training and development seriously?

Yes

Tim Calow, group training manager, Skanska Construction

I can view our industry from a different perspective having also worked in the retail and manufacturing sectors.

An outsider's perception is of a tough environment that does little to train and develop its people, as the focus is on finishing one project and starting the next.

Having worked in construction for 10 years, I know this is incorrect and has more to do with an outdated image many people have of our industry.

Skanska takes this issue very seriously. We realise training and development is important to help the company grow, attract the best calibre recruits, retain them and foster a smarter way of working.

How can you meet your business goals if you do not take the development of the people who will help achieve them seriously?

We have just completed the most far-reaching review ever of our training and development needs and this will lead to a stream of initiatives aimed at boosting the effectiveness of training at Skanska.

As our industry often has to work within tight deadlines and low profit margins, one school of thought is that there must be tangible rewards for training and development to justify it. However, this is both shortsighted and self-defeating and I'm glad to see most companies recognise this.

In the last few years, our industry has also realised the importance of 'soft skills' training and the need to communicate effectively, work together in teams and develop productive relationships with other parties involved in a project.

This emphasis has led to companies re-examining their processes, looking at best practice from across the industry and developing a training model which provides continuous improvement in performance.

So, yes, training and development are taken very seriously.

They are a vital tool in being competitive and providing clients with the quality and value they demand.

No

Roger Bullivant, chairman,

Roger Bullivant If the industry did take training and development seriously, it would put far more pressure on the academic institutions to produce diplomates and post graduates that can be of real use outside academia - young people with practical nous, who are combative and competitive, and who possess a sense of commercial reality. New entrants to the industry who are trainable and whose careers can be developed.

Such people are in short supply at the moment. They have not been coming through for 20 years. A whole generation has been spoiled, in my view. The education system is failing construction employers and the clock needs to be turned back.

Twenty or 30 years ago, there was an understanding that practical skills were important, that using your hands trains your brain in a certain way. Similarly, compulsory sports were not just about physical fitness. They encouraged and channelled competitive instincts. Winning was not a dirty word.

Discipline was instilled at school and later through college or university. I believe that courses a generation ago were more vocational and required harder work. Practical, self-disciplined young people were the result.

I took my degree full time but it was generally recognised that youngsters who had followed a part-time Higher National Certificate with evening classes were a better bet than graduates.

They were the tough ones.

Once qualified, your first job was hard, with little respect for your qualification and no allowance for your inexperience.

The industry remains tough and competitive, and essentially highly practical. It should not rely on air heads nurtured to believe that training is something you get at seminars held in comfy hotels, divorced from the job.

At my company, where Investors in People is key, we are turning once again to trades people to supply our lower and middle managers, people who know what's what and appreciate that career progress is not a matter of right.

The facts

There is a 10% year on year decrease in applicants to study civil engineering.

Eighty six per cent of engineers believe it is important to have regular training, particularly so they can become professionally qualified.

One quarter of respondents to NCE's employment survey (see p24) receive no training or continuing professional development; 47% say they are not properly or appropriately trained.

Clients are increasingly requesting information on the quality and amount of training supplier employees receive, and the level of qualifications staff have.

According to the ICE, Arup is the best employer for professional training, with 79% of its graduates passing the professional review.

There will be a live debate on this subject on the morning of June 13 at NCE's Civils 2002 exhibition. For more details call 020 7505 6644.

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