Small businesses are at the heart of my plans for the CITB
I was recently asked who I most admire in the construction industry, past or present. My answer, in Construction Management magazine, was the small business owner. To have the initiative and bravery to do something completely on your own, without a safety net, is truly courageous.
The last two years have been an incredibly challenging time for construction employers of all sizes. Earlier this month the Financial Times reported that hundreds of UK construction businesses were collapsing every month even though we know the market is very strong.
Then there’s investing and accessing training. The chore of paperwork where the phrase “time is money” is, perhaps, most acutely felt.
Our new report, Rethinking Recruitment, advises that to attract workers in an increasingly competitive jobs market employers will have to try new approaches to employing staff.
Small, medium and micro employers have shown incredible resilience during the pandemic and deserve as much support as possible, particularly given the decline of SME housebuilders developing new homes. Particularly as they will play a big role as construction leads the economy towards recovery after a gruelling couple of years.
As I outlined in my first blog I am committed, like the rest of industry, to minimising the skills gap, and since becoming Chief Executive last September, I have spoken to many small and micro business owners to really understand their challenges and concerns and want to reassure industry that small businesses – the soul of the UK construction industry - are at the heart of my plans for the CITB.
CITB has done much to improve our offer to SMEs in recent years. This includes the introduction of the Skills and Training Fund for small and micro businesses.
Our latest Annual Report and Accounts showed this fund supported almost 1,000 SME employers in 2020-21. It helped SMEs receive more from the Levy than they put in – contributing less than 70% while receiving over 73% back in grants and funding.
Additionally, over 2021 our engagement team had more than 20,000 supportive engagements with businesses, most of which were with SME and micro businesses. Without this support the accessibility of training is even harder; and I’ve learnt that this is a silent activity of CITB often going underneath the radar. We need to change that as this is a highly valued service.
I know we need to do more and I am now working with our team to improve our offer to SMEs, to make it easier to access our services and gain the support I know you trust and value – all this will be outlined in our Business Plan which will be published this Spring.
During Consensus 21 and my wider conversations, employers told us there was a lack of clarity on service and support CITB provides; that our communication and engagement needed to improve, and our funding is hard to access.
In the coming months, you will start to see a shift in how we communicate our support available to SMEs in a simple, focussed way.
I know that one size does not fit all, and every SME is unique, which makes the challenge of meeting their needs greater. And the task of helping SMEs is increased by regional differences. There can be a gulf between national and local pictures, and how to address their differing, key skills needs. CITB will be addressing this point as we develop our value proposition.
In the next year we will increase our support so local areas have the right training infrastructure in place. Our apprenticeship team will continue to work closely with learners and employers to deliver apprenticeships and link them up with providers. Our engagement team will strive to improve networks with all our stakeholders, particularly small businesses.
We will establish a better balance between addressing national and local skills needs.
My hope is that after a hard winter for us all the next few months sees normality return to the UK as Spring arrives. I am looking forward to backing my words of admiration for small businesses with action. And I am equally keen to hear from you. Individuals and organisations benefit from fair, constructive criticism, we all gain from teamwork and voicing fair opinions.
If you would like to share your views, please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.