Covid-19: CITB chief exec update - 17 December 2020
As our last update before Christmas, I wanted to reflect on the turbulent year we’ve had, and how we have worked together to meet the skills challenges construction has faced. There has been a real emphasis on keeping workers safe on site, adapting to remote learning, protecting apprenticeships and securing direct funding for employers.
Putting employers’ needs first
During the first stages of the pandemic, employers told us cashflow was their top priority. With this in mind, we suspended Levy collection, creating a 5-month Levy holiday, cutting bills by 25% across two years. We also raised the Levy threshold so 5,000 smaller firms would be exempt from payments in 2021.
We introduced an apprenticeship support package to assist with funding, later extending this to Higher Level Apprenticeships. We ensured the maximum number of apprentices received support, contacting over 11,000 apprentices.
The amazing response from so many employers has meant that just 2.5% of CITB apprentices have been made redundant, and of those over 50% have now restarted an apprenticeship within construction. The way employers have supported our young talent is something to truly celebrate.
Working in partnership
In times of crisis, working together is a necessity. It’s been great to be part of an industry-wide effort to deliver the Construction Talent Retention Scheme. The service, which matches workers to roles, is fully funded until April ‘21, meaning it’s free for job seekers and employers to use. We’ve also worked closely with the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) to produce a range of interactive checklists and forms to help workers return to sites safely.
In Scotland, an initial priority was to better understand employers’ needs, leading to the creation of the Scottish Construction Apprentice Task Force. We’re also excited to support the delivery of the pilot Pathway Apprenticeships programme, to provide more apprenticeship opportunities to young people.
In Wales we’ve worked with the Alternative Ways of Working Group, a new pilot created to provide virtual opportunities for learners to visit sites. In partnership with the Construction Wales Innovation Centre and University of Wales Trinity St David, we also launched a new Scaffolding Training Centre filling a gap in training provision in Wales.
Adapting training delivery
Enabling staff and learners to continue to train has posed challenges for us all. Despite the difficulties, the National Construction Colleges have worked hard to maintain services and have been our key workers throughout the pandemic. Whilst many of us could work from home, reducing our personal risk, they in many cases needed to attend the college and other work places to support our learners. They have continuously reviewed government guidance and advice from the Department for Education, ensuring delegate and staff safety, while enabling face-to-face services to continue.
In some cases, we have also made adaptions to the way training is delivered. The first remote Site Safety Plus course took place in early April, at a time when face-to-face training was not available, and has been hugely beneficial in maintaining a level of health and safety awareness.
There are now around 180 assured courses which have been identified as suitable for remote delivery. We launched our eCourses platform and our free ‘COVID-19: Setting up and operating a safe construction site’ course, completed by over 5500 delegates. Scottish housebuilder, Stewart Milne demonstrated the benefits of remote learning. They administered a fantastic 1,678 hours of training in just three months, saving around £80,000.
Key funding support
We have adapted our funding support, refreshing our Skills and Training Fund for small and micro businesses, with a greater emphasis on innovation, management and leadership. We then launched a new strand of the fund, for medium sized businesses. Finally, we introduced the Leadership and Management Development Fund to cater to the needs of larger businesses. Since November 2020, £6m has been used to support over 1,300 businesses through the Skills and Training Fund.
We also extended the Construction Skills Fund (CSF), with £7.5m awarded to 14 hubs. They aim to place 3,000 learners into sustained employment, on top of the 13,200 learners who are employment and site ready from the first phase.
Looking ahead to 2021
With reduced income, it’s essential that we focus on the most important priorities, targeting funding to equip industry with the right support. This will involve onsite skills, and we’re aiming to provide 19,000 people with onsite experience to ensure more learners become employment and site ready.
Lastly, as the year draws to an end, as does the Brexit transition period, and it’s important to be aware of the changes coming into place from 1 January 2021.
CITB’s COVID-19 Urgent Messages page is refreshed regularly and includes updates on the full range of our work. You can also read the range of support measures made available to UK businesses and employees by the UK Government.
Finally, I would like to wish you all a peaceful Christmas break, and a very happy and healthy New Year!