NSITG: With your help, training can overcome skill shortages in the stone industry

The new Talentview website where you can find training opportunities and people looking for training.

With unemployment at a historically low 4.3% and job vacancies at an all-time high of 1.172million in October (the latest figures available from the Office for National Statistics at the time of writing) and many stone companies complaining about the difficulty of recruiting, anything that can be done to encourage people into the industry is to be welcomed.

And some of what the stone industry is doing is through the Natural Stone Industry Training Group (NSITG), as members of the group heard during the NSITG AGM and general meeting on 23 November.

The meeting was held by video conferencing, which Training Officer Claire Wallbridge said would continue to be the method of the group’s meetings as it had proved particularly successful since it was introduced in response to the Covid pandemic.

More people had attended each of the meetings held online, including this AGM, than generally attended the face-to-face meetings previously held in London. “We’re gaining traction as the go-to place for training,” said Claire.

NSITG is one of the training groups that was initiated by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) to try to encourage training. It is paid for by the CITB. Following a review of training groups by CITB at this time last year the groups were split into two categories, specialist training groups and independent training groups.

Comments from the sectors were elicited by the CITB and there was considerable support for the NSITG from the stone sector, as a result of which it is now one of the specialist training groups that continue to be paid for by CITB.

After the election of officers to the NSITG during its AGM, which saw the existing team led by Michelle Turner as Chair being re-elected, the group heard from Alasdair Reisner, CEO of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association that is part of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC). He was speaking about Talentview Construction.

Talentview Construction is a CLC initiative to recruit and retain people in the construction industry. It is a website where those looking for jobs can post their CVs and companies looking for trainees can present their opportunities.

Talentview Construction has been funded largely by the CITB and is supported by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Apprenticeships (the national apprenticeship service), Go Construct and colleges and universities.

There are so far about 1,000 employers, colleges and the like accessing the website along with more than 2,000 people looking for a job who have registered on it. When NSS looked, there were 269 apprenticeships, traineeships and entry role jobs advertised on the site.

The site also links to the Go Construct website, which gets about 10,000 visits a week and where stonemasonry is the 12th most popular occupation explored from among 180 on the site.

Alasdair admitted that the Talentview Construction site has had its teething problems and said he would welcome any feed-back about it, especially if it is not currently doing something that those using it would like it to. He can be contacted at: [email protected].

There is also help and more information at bit.ly/CTRSCommsToolkit (which is case sensitive).

“We’re trying to pull people into the industry,” said Alasdair. He had been encouraged by the level of support so far seen for the Talentview website. “It’s there for you and it’s a brilliant tool,” he said.

The new Trailblazer apprenticeship for the stone industry also seems to be attracting more students for the colleges that are participating in it – Bath, the Building Crafts College and York.

The apprentices are with companies but train at the colleges for a set period each year, and the end point assessment takes place at the colleges, although overseen by someone from outside the colleges at which the apprentices had trained.

Michelle Turner, who led the development of the Stone Trailblazer with Claire Wallbridge, reported that more than 60 apprentices started on the first tranche and that Bath College is looking at starting another tranche in January. Michelle said the numbers were encouraging compared with the number of apprentices before the Trailblazer was completed.

Another effort to encourage youngsters into the stone industry comes through STEM Ambassadors (STEM stands for ‘science, technology, engineering & maths’).

In response to a call for volunteers to take the stone message into schools as a STEM Ambassador, Robert Merry, the NSITG Treasurer, had been first to respond and said he would be having a ‘virtual work experience’ day for sixth form pupils from Stephney Green School in Tower Hamlets, London, the day after the NSITG meeting.

After the STEM work experience day he told NSS: "I really enjoyed the event and could see how bringing real professionals into a work experience exercise in the school, albeit virtually, was inspiring for the pupils."

The stone industry in the UK is small, so many people will not be aware of it as a career when they are at school. STEM Ambassadors from the stone sector could help address that. There is training available (which is also online) for anyone who wants to become a STEM Ambassador. If you are interested, email Claire.

Another initiative from the CITB aimed at youngsters about to leave school is work experience placements. Again, Claire is calling on companies in the industry, especially contractors, to help deliver this by giving youngsters a chance to work on-site.

Participation meets contractor 106 requirements on contracts for social values, which is useful as contractors are often required, especially by the public sector, to include apprenticeship placements without too much consideration being paid to what that involves for the contractor.

For site health & safety reasons all the youngsters will be over 16 years old. Anyone who wants to be involved should email Claire on [email protected].

Another way of tackling labour shortages is to employ more women and Claire reported on the Women In Natural Stone (WINS) group officially launched at The Landscape Show at the NEC, Birmingham, earlier in November (read about the launch here).

Claire said that offering training and support to women through a gender specific group was intended to help overcome a perception that the stone industry is a male domain, a belief that can result in a reluctance among women to consider a career in it.

The NSITG does not run any training courses itself, although part of its function is to identify training needs and try to satisfy them by getting others to deliver the courses. Claire is also the Training Officer of the Stone Federation training arm, StoneTrain, which does provide courses. She said if anyone in the industry has identified a gap in training provision that StoneTrain could fill to let her know. “If you know there’s a gap, our job as a Specialist Training Board is to get that gap filled,” she said. Again, Claire’s email address is [email protected].

Would you like to be an assessor?

With ‘grandfather rights’ to CSCS cards coming to an end when current cards expire, there is expected to be an increase in demand for NVQs so people can obtain their new cards, especially Gold heritage cards.

To meet the expected demand for the NVQs, it is likely that more assessors will be required and the National Specialist Accreditation Centre (NSAC) at CITB’s National Construction College has offered to have training carried out for would be assessors as part of the CITB commitment to the stone specialist sector.

Assessors usually come from a craft and trade background and have a wealth of knowledge and experience at site level. They might wish to progress to this new aspect of input to the sector.

It is hoped to hold an information day about becoming an assessor in early 2022 (perhaps February). It will be an online video conference providing an opportunity to learn what is involved and ask questions of the NSAC team.

There is no commitment required at this stage, this is just to let those who think they might be interested find out more about what is required.

Anyone interested should let Claire know now and she will issue an invitation to join the video conference at an appropriate time. Once again, Claire’s email address is [email protected].

CSCS recognises all nationally recognised apprenticeships, which includes the new Stone Masonry Trailblazer Apprenticeship, so CSCS Apprentice Cards will be issued to those on apprenticeships.