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The next 12 months will see the introduction of two key developments in training for the finishing trades sector. After an absence of four years the industry’s National Training Forum will return in 2013, and the government’s much vaunted Green Deal will finally come to life, writes Piers Roache.

2013 could start as a good year for training in the plastering and drylining sector. From 1 January the National Training Forum, disbanded in 2008, will be reformed after FPDC successfully obtained funding from CITB ConstructionSkills to get it going again. The group, which will consist of a training forum made up of a minimum of 20 member firms, is being set up to provide comprehensive training support to the drylining and plastering sector, including walls, floors, roofs and steel framed systems.

Day-to-day the National Training Forum’s activities will be overseen by independent training officer Caroline Barker, who told Specfinish: “The group is not-for-profit and it is proposed it will be funded through an annual membership fee of £100 as well as the CITB-ConstructionSkills funding, which is ring fenced for two years.”

The primary purpose of the group is to identify training requirements, create and facilitate training opportunities and boost the sector’s profile as a career choice for people. Members will be offered help preparing training plans, guidance on funding available and how to apply, and will be represented in dialogue with CITB-ConstructionSkills.

Caroline Barker continues: “It’s about providing needs-led training, and the membership will shape that provision. We’re aiming to create opportunities for relevant programmes, We’ll also be raising the image of the sector nationally, and promoting awareness of the trades as an attractive career option for recruits.”

Boosting the sector’s profile could prove vital amid concerns that specialist contractors face a looming skills shortage, with an increasingly older skilled workforce and difficulties taking on new operatives to continue their legacy. To this end the National Training Forum will encourage apprenticeships and forge productive industry links with colleges and other educational institutions in order to attract new talent to the sector.

“Autumn is often the busiest time of the year for us,” adds FPDC’s Steve Halcrow, who is leading on FPDC’s programme of training and skills development. “We’re running a programme of management and supervisor training, which has proved very successful. It’s integral to raising standards.

“What we find is contractors are under greater pressure than before so are often unable to release staff to travel long distance so we’ve tried to provide more on-site or in-office bespoke course that suit members.”

“We secured ConstructionSkills funding for the Management and Skills Development Programme earlier this year and we’re also establishing a course programme for next year to help members with contract awareness and site manager training.”

Upskilling both new and existing workforces is something that specialists hoping to benefit from the introduction of the government’s Green Deal, launching next year, must consider. With Green Deal’s promise of supporting the cost of energy efficiency improvements to the fabric ofUKhomes – particularly increased levels of insulation – comes the prospect of a significant new stream of business for specialist contractors.

Nick Ratcliffe, marketing director at drylining and insulation distributor Minster, explains: “With Green Deal in place, and the government pushing towards meeting climate change targets, the energy efficiency sector will increase.

“We’re encouraging our customers to familiarise themselves with Green Deal so as not to miss out on future potential work and diversification opportunities. Green Deal will be of particular interest to those customers who have previously relied heavily on CERT/CESP funded work which will cease at the end of this year.”

A critical consideration for these contractors is the requirement to be trained in the systems and products they are installing in order to become certified to carry out Green Deal work. Nick Ratcliffe continues: “Consumers may not always possess adequate knowledge about insulation products and standards or building fabric and functions. It is the responsibility of the assessors and installers to ensure that priority is not simply given to the quantity of insulation installed, but rather the quality and suitability.”

Minster’s Greenworks Training Academy is geared up to provide appropriate guidance to the sector. Its courses encompass areas including basic loft insulation, through to more complex systems such as external wall insulation, as well as an outline of the opportunities that Green Deal could present to businesses.

“The Green Deal code of practice will undoubtedly require installers to become certified,” says Mr Ratcliffe. “Educating customers is a top priority for Minster and the Greenworks Training Academy offers a Green Deal adviser course to ensure that the transition into the scheme is a smooth one. We can help our customers to meet the standards required to be a Green Deal assessor.”

In times of recession training can fall by the wayside, leaving specialists at risk of being unable to compete when work becomes available. However the revival of the National Training Group, as well as potential opportunities arising from Green Deal training offered by major distributors and manufacturers also including Knauf and British Gypsum, demonstrate the benefit and value that the sector at large attaches to ongoing support for training.

For more information about FPDC’s training programme email training@fpdc.org

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