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Construction – a sector with a real heart and soul

Sarah Beale

By Sarah Beale, CITB Chief Executive

I can’t believe after nearly 17 challenging but immensely rewarding years at CITB, I will be stepping down as CEO.

CITB has been a truly amazing place to work and a privilege to lead.

I started my career as a trainee accountant, working for a small firm with a family feel who invested in me to ensure I had the practical skills, knowledge and experience, as well as the required qualifications, to grow and thrive. This experience taught me many things, particularly that everyone can achieve more than they think, everyone deserves to have a rewarding career and with the right support that can be a reality – which is why I have stayed with CITB for many years.

Every day our teams share with me the impact they are making. There are huge, eye watering numbers that we can quote, such as the millions of people detailed on our Training Register, with tens of millions of training records, the tens of thousands of apprentices who have been supported by our grants and dedicated employers to join the construction industry.  Not to mention the number of people and businesses supported by our training teams and employer support activity.  It is easy to just see these statistics as numbers on a page, but to me they are so much more.

Every number and statistic is a person or a business. A person with a story, a life and the potential for a great future. Or a business, helped to thrive, to contribute to UK plc, and hopefully circle back and invest more in employing and training more employees.

I have had the opportunity to work with and meet some amazing people while I have worked here, but there is one person who always sticks out in my mind and acts as a reminder for why CITB is here and what we make happen.

Many years ago, I had the chance to present an apprentice award. The winner was a young lad who had been through a tremendous amount in his life and in addition to all that, acted as a carer to his mum. He had not only gained his apprenticeship and passed impressively but did this while balancing a challenging life at home, work and college.

He and his emotional employer were utterly thrilled that he had been given the award, and it was so well deserved. I went and found him later that day and he had his mum on the phone, ready to speak to me and she was quite rightly gushing with pride as his accomplishments would now help change their whole family’s direction. It was humbling to know we had helped shape his future and that of his family.

We have millions of people on our databases who all have a story, a career, and a fuller life thanks to our interventions and the fabulous employers who gave them a chance and invest care and attention in them.

It has always saddened me that a career in construction has been so undervalued by our society. My dad was a joiner and like so many skilled tradespeople, could apply his expertise to numerous projects and he always had such pride in his work – showing me the various things and places he had helped create.

Of course, we need to look to the future and develop solutions for modernisation and net zero as well as embrace digital and new and evolving skills and systems, but let’s not forget or undervalue our need for specialised and skilled tradespeople. Our roads, infrastructure, hospitals, houses, offices and shops all rely on construction, yet the reason we have a skills shortage is because people have undervalued and underinvested in those trades and skills.

Construction is still not a top job choice for many young people or career changers, and we must shift the narrative around these roles to ensure we have the future skills in place to support our economy and sector to flourish.

But we have come a long way and have the right systems in place, they just need the scale of support that will ensure they make the difference. Go Construct already attracts around three-quarters of a million people a year, we get numerous applications for every job or apprenticeship, and we have tens of thousands of people achieving construction-related training that never get into our industry, so the appetite is there. We now need to inspire these people to take that next step and make it as easy as possible for them to apply and secure an apprenticeship, traineeship or job.

I have no doubt it can be done. Every industry has its qualities, but I can think of no other that can offer jobs for just about any skill set and in any environment. However, the one thing that I feel truly gels construction is the passion of the people in it. It’s the infectious enthusiasm that makes things happen, that brings projects to life and turns plans, into places and into reality.

I am unbelievably proud to have been a part of this as I hand the reins over to Tim Balcon, the new CITB chief executive.

I am full of gratitude: for having had the opportunity to work with great people at CITB and across the built environment; for having contributed to an organisation with a real heart and soul, which makes a difference to people's lives, businesses and, ultimately, UK plc.