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The collapse of Carillion last month sent shockwaves across the supply chain. Its huge debt pile was just too much, and the compulsory liquidation has put thousands of companies and many jobs in the supply chain at risk. Robert Candy from the Scaffolding Association calls for change if the sector to move forward.

The events surrounding Carillion are yet another example of the construction industry underperforming. There is a general impression that our industry does not deliver good value for its customers. In part, this is due to the unusual nature of the industry, where, unlike a production line, each building is a one-off. But in addition, the nature of contracting arrangements means that it can be an adversarial industry with significant potential for disputes.

At a time when we all need more skilled resources, the headlines generated by Carillion will inevitably put people off considering construction as a viable career option. What grabbed the public’s attention was a business that had no assets, did not pay its bills and didn’t actually do any of the work…! Unbelievable – but true.

The events surrounding the collapse have also exposed a large number of contracts being awarded to a small group of contractors. Cartels and elitist clubs that try to ring fence sources of work is not an uncommon experience. All we want is a level and fair playing field to compete for work. Restricting tender lists to elitist clubs only goes to drive up costs and reduce competition.  We believe that fair competition encourages innovation and service improvements.

According to Carillion’s latest set of accounts, it was holding more than £800 million in retention payments owed to subcontractors. This makes the campaign by Peter Aldous MP to protect and ring fence retentions money even more important.

The Scaffolding Association fully supports the campaign led by the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ Group (SEC Group) to protect retention money that, in reality, belongs to specialist contractors. Last month, we were delighted to be accepted as a member of SEC Group; this is further recognition of the contribution the Association is making to raising standards in the industry. What is clear from recent events is that the very nature of how construction does business needs to be reconsidered.

And to be able to deliver on the growing demand for services in the access and scaffolding sector, we also need to tackle the dire skills shortage. The withdrawal of the CITB from direct training has exposed a weakness in developing existing skills and also attracting new entrants into our sector. Existing providers just don’t have the capacity to meet current demand, let alone growing demand, especially in the housing sector. Our members want to make sure their workforce has the right skills so that they can deliver a safe and efficient service that helps them deliver on their objectives.

Technical challenges can only be overcome with the right skills and resources. And this is why the Association is unveiling plans to establish the Access Industry Training Scheme – AITS (see page 21). The new scheme is an employer-led initiative that has been devised to fill a skills gap in our sector.

When we talk about ‘filling the skills gaps’, we’re talking about two fundamental issues facing access and scaffolding specialists. On one hand, we need to attract new entrants and train them; while on the other, we must ensure that existing tradespeople maintain skills at the right level but also learn new, safer and more efficient ways of working, and, in doing so, progress as far as they want to take their career.

We advocate a contemporary solution to training that allows the access and scaffolding supply chain to develop skills that suit individual businesses and meet the needs of their clients. While core skills remain unchanged, different markets (e.g. off-shore oil and gas, office blocks and housing) demand different skills at different levels.

The Association remains committed to helping members, and the wider industry, protect technical standards, develop skills and improve profitability. To achieve this, change must happen.

Robert Candy
Chief executive
Scaffolding Association

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