Creating effective sector-based routes to work: lessons from the Construction Skills Fund

Blog posts

30 Mar 2022

Rosie Gloster

Rosie Gloster, Principal Research Fellow

At 1.32 million, there are now nearly as many vacancies as there are people unemployed (1.34 million) (IES, 2022). This unemployment-to-vacancy ratio is a key measure of labour market tightness, and at 1.03 is the lowest that it has been since at least the 1960s. The Construction Skills Fund (CSF) supported the development of employer-led hubs. These created entry-level pathways into the construction sector by delivering information, advice and guidance, training and testing for the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card, training for entry-level construction skills, and job brokerage. The programmes delivered over 6,000 sustained job outcomes. In CSF2 just under half of participants had a sustained job outcome. Our recently published evaluations offer insight into the effective features of the design and delivery of sector-based routes into work, many of which could be transferable to other sectors experiencing recruitment challenges.

From a learner perspective the design of the CSF had several strengths:

  • It was easy to enrol: It was free with very few eligibility criteria, meaning it was open to people of all ages, no matter their prior qualification level, and to those working and out of work.
  • The courses had frequent start dates: people did not have to wait long between expressing an interest and starting a course, capitalising on their interest and motivation.
  • A short, vocationally-focused course: Courses could be completed in between one and two weeks, and were designed to develop technical knowledge, and lead to a recognised qualification required for starting most positions in the industry.
  • Visible employment opportunities: participants felt there was a clear line of sight to employment in the industry. Most courses were delivered on a construction site, and employer involvement made participants feel there was a realistic prospect of the programme supporting them into work.

The evaluation indicated several aspects were needed for the pathway into employment to work most effectively:

  • Engaging employers who are recruiting in the programme design and delivery. For example, securing their attendance during the training delivery to discuss their roles, and creating visibility with them for participants. Encouraging employers to offer secure and good quality employment - in one hub staff encouraged all employers to pay at least the London Living wage.
  • Good working relationships between the hub and a broad range of local community partner organisations who refer a diverse range of participants motivated and interested to work in construction.
  • Effective screening of participants to ensure their potential job-readiness within one to two weeks training.
  • The provision of information, advice, and guidance for participants about how the construction sector operates, and the range of job roles available.
  • A flexible training programme which can adapt in content and length to meet the needs of participants and to the recruitment needs of employers over time, for example adding additional role-specific qualifications as required by vacancies.

Alongside strong employer partnerships, the evaluation suggested that job outcomes from similar projects could be maximised by: 

  • Creating more entry routes for career changers for whom apprenticeships are not financially sustainable: e.g. funding for qualifications required to enter more technical job roles, or flexibility in programme length as seen in skills bootcamps.
  • Greater use of work placements: Participants who struggled to find construction work were commonly told by agencies and employers they lacked work experience in the sector.
  • Taking an active role in challenging the sector on inclusive work practices: some participants from diverse backgrounds had difficult experiences in entering the sector which they felt tended to lack flexible working options.
  • Providing greater in-work support where it is needed to sustain employment: Some participants who found work in the sector but had poor early experiences subsequently left. This could be through workplace buddying or mentoring for example.

The CSF 1 and 2 supported over 6,000 people into sustained employment in the construction sector. The occupations where many found work were those where the sector has identified skills shortages, such as general labourers and plant and machine operatives. The hubs also engaged a high proportion of younger participants, and those from ethnic minority backgrounds, which is both positive in the context of sector challenges posed by an ageing construction workforce and in increasing workforce diversity. In the context of a tight labour market, this tried and tested model offers a potential solution for recruitment challenges in other sectors.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.