After some great groundwork by our President David Pattenden at the the Construction Products Regulation Parliamentary Reception, he and I were invited to Westminster to meet up with Bill Esterson, Labour Shadow Minister for Business Innovation and Skills in Westminster last week to introduce the woodworking and talk skills, carbon and economic growth.
We covered a fair bit of ground, and it was very interesting to hear about the new business agenda within the Labour Party, but there were two key areas that we really zoned in on during our conversation. The first was the Embodied Carbon debate and recent changes related to steel. As it stands government projects (>£10 m) must take into account embodied carbon and whole life cost for steel. We see this as a really positive step and would like to see it extended. As I mentioned, imports are hitting our own sector too (imported windows up 25% in the past 5 years), this means wealth creating activity and jobs lost. This approach also has the added benefit of encouraging consideration of the carbon involved in projects (ideally in the way markings on food now encourage us to look at our own calorific intake!).
We also flagged up that the apprentice debate is also very significant for us. The underlying fear we have is that in chasing numbers we run past the areas where it is working. We still have a high ratio of apprentices and if we can improve college provision, maintain funding and simplify the process then it really is pushing against an open door to get joinery businesses to take on more apprentices. Our focus at the moment is working with FE colleges to develop Centres of Excellence across the UK. Impressive centres of learning are a starting point for parity of esteem with academia.
To assist, we do need to consider further the trappings of parity and I believe we propose a clearing systems for apprentices, preventing wastage and also helping to target interested parties with information and informed choice. Developing and working this network can help offset the fact that careers advice in schools is poor. This is not the fault of schools who are being pushed towards academic subjects whilst we fundamentally fail to help young people to understand the choices they have, let alone prepare them for them. I also feel we need to give the apprentice a voice, a National Union of Apprentices would be a step towards this. CITB is a force for good here, where they are concerned we need evolution over revolution.
We have already followed up and were very encouraged by Mr Esterson's fresh approach. He has responded to say that he would be delighted to discuss these issues further with members, either as round tables, visits, or a combination.
These points and more are listed in the BWF Manifesto
Iain McIlwee, CEO