The skills shortages facing construction firms in the UK has been well documented in recent times, with the issue being cited as one of the main barriers to the industry’s ability to successfully deliver cost effectively on future projects.

However, the issue is far wider than simply a shortage of available workers, construction firms are desperate for highly skilled individuals.

Impacting further on the issue of recruitment, is that still not enough is being done to promote the benefits of apprenticeships to young people, their parents and teachers. There are thousands of terrific and diverse careers in construction with entry points for people of all different abilities, but unfortunately many young people are still being failed by ill-informed prejudices and poor careers advice. This is something we are very aware of at the Construction Innovation Centre and we are working in partnership with the CITB, the Welsh Government and local schools to try and change the perception of apprenticeships in the construction industry.

For me personally, there is no better way of showing young people just how far you can go with a career in construction than by getting them involved in SkillBuild, run by the CITB, and part of the WorldSkills UK Competitions programme.

Designed by industry experts, the competitions test not only an apprentice’s technical skills, but wider attributes as well. In a recent survey, over 80% of competitors felt competing had increased their confidence, team working, time management and ability to work under pressure.

Having been a competitor myself in Team UK winning Gold in Carpentry at EuroSkills 2012, Europe’s largest international skills competition, I know that is the preparation for and the experience of competing that enables apprentices to gain the high level employability skills that will drive the construction industry forward. That is why, as a sector, we must use WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017, the world’s toughest international skills competition which takes place from 14 to 19 October, to inspire those already in training and also those considering a career in construction.

In just over a month, Team UK will compete against 1000 of the world’s most talented apprentices in skills ranging from carpentry to cooking and cyber security. For the 34-strong team it will mark a huge milestone for them, for which collectively they will have completed over 71,000 hours of additional training on top of their apprenticeship. For me, it will be the completion of a two-year development programme in which I have been mentoring and training Cameron Nutt, the UK’s top carpentry apprentice.  

Cameron, who is completing his apprenticeship with North West Regional College in Northern Ireland and who works for J & R Snodgrass, will compete against 21 other apprentices from countries including Denmark, South Korea and Germany. Cameron won’t know the exact tasks he will need to complete in Abu Dhabi until the first day of the Competition. It is this unknown element which is required to effectively test the skills and knowledge of the world’s best apprentices. All tasks must be carried out to exact measurements, at what equates to Level 7 and in timed conditions. And that is the difficulty for competitors. Being just a few millimetres out can result in points being dropped a medal lost.

To help prepare Cameron, I have hosted training sessions at the Construction Wales Innovation Centre (CWIC) where I work, North West Regional College where Cameron trains and at venues throughout the UK including Chichester College. Hosting training sessions at different college facilities shows why WorldSkills is more than just a competition.   When we are at different colleges, you will find other apprentices and training staff coming to watch Cameron in action. Often, they can’t quite believe the level of task being carried out, but it shows them if their peers can achieve it after working hard, so could they.

What is great to see is that more and more employers and suppliers in the construction industry believe skills competitions should be used to develop the future workforces and they are working with colleges and training providers to get involved.

Dewalt, Festool, North West Regional College and Construction Wales Innovation Centre are supporting Cameron in his training and without their support I know WorldSkills UK, who manages Team UK, would struggle to enter the Carpentry competition at an international level.

Cameron and the rest of Team UK are important role models. By showcasing the UK’s success The Skills Show and at a global events like WorldSkills, it shows young people how they can go further, faster in their career.

Please show your support for #TeamUK at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017 which takes place from 14 to 19 October.
Gareth Evans, WorldSkills UK Expert for Carpentry and Centre Co-ordinator at Construction Wales Innovation Centre.

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