Make it work

By Marco Cillario - Fri 15 September 2017, 2:45 pm

How is Southwark Council delivering on its 2014 pledge to guarantee education, employment or training for every school leaver in the borough? Marco Cillario finds out

Louie Meates (middle) talks to tutors at the Southwark Construction Skills Centre

Four months into college, Louie Meates realised it wasn’t for him and left.

Walking down Heygate Street – a few minutes from his house in Elephant and Castle – he noticed a bright orange and yellow building, standing out against the grey construction site behind it. Seeing a sign which read “Construction Skills Centre”, he decided to walk in.

Meates now spends most of his week at the centre as part of a one-and-a-half year apprenticeship, which would result in a Level 2 diploma in construction operations and civil engineering services in highway and maintenance.

Since Southwark Construction Skills Centre (SCSC) at Elephant Park opened in July 2016, more than 1,500 have enrolled on apprenticeships, pre-employment courses, short-term construction qualifications and NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications).

 “We really are employment led,” says the centre’s general manager, John White. “Employers tell us what they need in terms of skills and we make sure they get it.” 

The initiative was conceived as a response to one of the biggest challenges affecting the property and construction industry at the moment: skills shortages.

“There is around £12 billion of projects in the South London Tri Borough – Southwark, Lewisham and Lambeth,” says White. “At the moment we are about 25,000 skilled people short.”

Southwark Council decided to invest in the project. Lendlease, selected as developer for the £2.3 billion, 3,000-home Elephant Park, agreed to put some land aside for it during construction at the 11.3-ha site and helped with funding.

One of the first things White did after setting up the centre was to invite local contractors to the venue: “We had them all here for an open discussion to ask them ‘what is your shortage, what do you need? Let’s sit down and put a little programme together.’”

Courses span from site carpentry to groundwork, dry lining and steel fixing.

A survey showed that pre-employment courses at SCSC have a 96% success rate, with 64% of people going into jobs or apprenticeships. White recognises there is room for improvement, but says that as a result of employers’ involvement in setting up and running the courses, the success is much higher than that of traditional colleges.

Short courses and NVQs have a 92% success rate. As for apprenticeships, the centre hasn’t lived long enough yet to allow for data to be collected, but White says it would be considered a failure if the employment rate wasn’t over 90%.

A longer version of this article appears in the latest issue of Southwark magazine

Click here to get a copy