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Industry bodies unite for skills training

A ground-breaking partnership between industry trade bodies and training providers is being launched to combat the skill shortages in the building services industry.

The partnership joins the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association, the Electrical Contractors’ Association and SummitSkills with Building Engineering Services Training and Electrical Assessment Services.
They will establish an industry steering group to reinvigorate the Train to Gain initiative by encouraging firms to access millions of pounds in funding for courses.

The Government’s flagship skills service has until now struggled to engage companies in the sector, due to fragmented implementation, a bureaucratic application process and a lack of funding for higher-level qualifications.

The steering group – funded by the national Learning Skills Council – will take a lead by promoting a more streamlined, flexible approach, which should help 5,000 to 10,000 people undertake industry recognised courses over the next three years.

Mark Brenner, chief executive of Best, which will lead the group and provide assessors, said: “This is the first time we have had a national approach where we can combine resources and engage industry through the trade associations. This will be a major catalyst in terms of the significant impact it will have on the skills gap in building services, where skill levels are well below European competitors.”

Keith Marshall, chief executive of SummitSkills, said: “This is absolutely vital for the industry. When you are talking about the existing workforce, Train to Gain is the primary funding mechanism. We have argued long and hard with the Government to make it more flexible.

“One of our biggest issues is that people might have had a bad experience with Train to Gain in the past and now ignore it. I would say to employers: it is well worth looking at again.”

Assessments of companies will look at skills levels and performance and how training could improve efficiency, competency, skills and the performance of the business.

Any training which is recommended will be geared towards attaining an NVQ Level two, three or four with subjects covering the full range of HVACR, plumbing, m&e, electrical crafts and industry specific leadership and management qualifications.

Mr Brenner said: “It is hoped that this new approach, giving ownership to respected industry bodies, will engender a more positive reaction to what is essentially free training.

“Overall the importance and timeliness of this scheme, particularly the unified industry approach, cannot be overestimated. This goes some way to fill the visible and growing skills gap within our sector, which becomes more of an issue as we get closer to the milestone of the 2012 Olympics and the further aim, set by Government, of significant skills uplift by 2020.”

Robert Higgs, HVCA chief executive, said: “It is well-known that skills gaps restrict the ability of our members to take full advantage of commercial opportunities.

“The association is enthusiastic about the initiative, viewing it as one method of encouraging employers to increase training by helping them to bear the costs.”