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  • Lawrence Bailey

Building up skills is vital

A visitor remarked to me the other day how it was ‘simply amazing’ the way buildings just seem to spring out of the ground at Swansea’s SA1 Waterfront. After giving him one of those looks that only Jacks can deliver when someone says something half-way condescending about the city, I reflected that he might actually be right.

That said, the speed with which the new University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) Innovation Quarter was built on the former docklands site is very much down to advanced construction techniques.

This fact received due recognition at last week’s opening of CWIC – otherwise known as the Construction Wales Innovation Centre – now an integral part of the new campus.

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) are a major stakeholder in the imaginative venture. Their aim is to foster skills training and modern technology to raise productivity, increase efficiency and help attract more people to the sector.

They will need to be successful. Just about 7% of the Welsh workforce is involved in construction, yet it has the potential to create many more well-paid, highly skilled jobs.

Labour demand will top the 100,000 mark by the end of this year. We’ll see this increase further as the decline in school leavers entering the job market continues. On top of that, the scarcity of skills in trades and professions will get worse as Brexit severely limits any means of supplementing the workforce.

Although governments have taken a piecemeal stab at tackling the issue with measures like the new apprenticeship levy, it’s clear that we’ve reached a stage where something is needed that can impact on the entire industry; from concept to completion stages.

What quickly came over at the launch of the all-Wales initiative, now headquartered at SA1 and which has already provided over 900 training days, is that they’re confident they can make a difference.

I suppose it was only fitting that the speeches were made to the accompanying racket of someone outside using a disc-saw. Nonetheless, there was no mistaking that the audience were treated to the real thing, both in terms of delivery and passion.

The themes were about developing the individual as much as the skills. The construction sector has a better gender balance than you might imagine but the key is making sure careers can evolve in a safe and supportive business.

It’s not just about collaborating with the industry either. A major factor involves building effective links between further and higher education sectors to create a throughput of talent.

Jane Davidson of UWTSD remarked to the audience that in a previous existence as Welsh government minister she had grappled with skills shortages in the industry. There’s probably a lesson somewhere in the fact that she finally had to leave politics in order to do something about it.

As ever though, it was left to Prof Medwin Hughes to put things into practical perspective. Standing behind a backdrop emblazoned with the “Transforming Education, Transforming Lives” mantra, his simple message was that if the future prosperity of Wales hinges on having the right infrastructure, then having the skills and talent to provide it is paramount.

Who could argue with that?.

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