News & Views

Lockdown 2.0 – Getting Your NVQ & CSCS Card

It was inevitable really – after Covid cases rising for weeks and many areas in the country being placed under ever greater restrictions – the Prime Minister having to hold a press conference in which he has updated the nation about new measures to contain Covid-19.

I have never (I doubt any of us have) experienced such a period of uncertainty.  For life to change so quickly and our ability to do the things we had become used to being taken away almost without warning.

There is no doubt jobs and the economy will take another huge hit – and our hearts go out to everyone affected, whether by getting the virus, or not being able to work.  That particularly affects trades who have always worked in people’s houses, rather than on building sites.

Even though construction is an exempt category in general and there are protocols for getting work done in residential premises, lots of trades we speak to are finding people don’t want to have work done in their houses and their work is drying up.

SuperSkills Construction Training is in one of the exempted categories and is permitted to keep going during the “lockdown” period.

It follows that our assessments can go ahead as normal unless circumstances change.  In a world of bad news, this means that people who have always done “domestic” work, but who now find they need to get onto sites, but don’t have CSCS Cards, can get the NVQ they need quickly, simply and conveniently.

We are obviously taking the safety of our candidates and staff seriously – we have been doing assessments under Covid secure arrangements since we reopened in June – and remember that if you have symptoms of Coronavirus or have to self-isolate for any reason, you can change your assessment date and just let us know.

You will not lose your deposit in these circumstances.  We’ve always adopted a sympathetic approach when people’s arrangements need to change and we’ve no intention of changing now.

There is accommodation available in Thirsk, so if you need an overnight stay, we will do our best to get you fixed up.

You can always contact our office on 01845 527445 should you need any advice.

In the meantime, we trust you and yours remain well and sincerely hope you are not affected by this dreadful virus.

It was inevitable really – after Covid cases rising for weeks and many areas in the country being placed under ever greater restrictions – the Prime Minister having to hold a press conference in which he has updated the nation about new measures to contain Covid-19. I have never (I doubt any of us have) […] Read More...

Housebuilding Won’t Improve Until The Game Of “Ministerial Musical Chairs” Stops

We need to build three hundred thousand houses a year. That’s a tough challenge. Even more so when you think that we haven’t done that since the 1950’s.

And it’s not helped when there is constant turnover of Housing Ministers. Esther McVey – who started in the post when Boris Johnson became PM last month – is the tenth since 2010. Yes, you read that correctly. The average lifespan of a Housing Minister is less than a year.

Housing Minister Esther McVey
Esther McVey

Hardly surprising then, that people in the industry lose a certain amount of enthusiasm as the invitations to “meet the new Minister” pop into their Inbox. You’d be tempted to develop an auto response in your Mail programme that just sent a list of things that need to be done.

But what would be on that list? I suspect everyone would have a different view – which won’t be helped by the disjointed voice of the Construction Sector as a critical element of the economy. Will the new ministerial team speak to the Federation of Master Builders, the Construction Industry Council, Build UK or the Strategic Forum for Construction?

This point, ably made by Lem Bingley, the newly-appointed Editor of Construction News recently, highlights just one of the problems the new Ministers face. They must look with envy upon their colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who ask their officials who they need to meet to talk about Farming and get pointed in one direction – the National Farmer’s Union.

Lem quite rightly calls for the sector to speak with one voice. But something else is also being overlooked. Anne Milton MP was the sixth Skills Minister since 2010 and left the Government last month, by “pre-resigning” on the assumption Boris Johnson would pursue a Brexit policy she could not support. She had only been in post a short time – Gavin Williamson took over as Secretary of State having been out of Government for a short period prior to the latest reshuffle. He’s kept the skills brief within his responsibilities according to the Department for Education website.

At the moment, the nation is woefully short of trained construction workers and this year’s apprenticeship starts data indicates there will be less than 10,000 new starts in 2019. There are just over 2.3 million construction workers presently, but the workforce is getting older and construction careers are not being promoted sufficiently in schools.

If we are to build enough houses, the nation has to have a strategy that encompasses all aspects of the issue – land availability, construction methods, workforce and financing. Consistency is essential to achieve the goal – in leadership, approach and delivery.

It’s time to turn off the music and get to work.

 

We need to build three hundred thousand houses a year. That’s a tough challenge. Even more so when you think that we haven’t done that since the 1950’s. And it’s not helped when there is constant turnover of Housing Ministers. Esther McVey – who started in the post when Boris Johnson became PM last month […] Read More...

Getting Paid Should Be Part Of The Job – Not An Added Bonus!

A few weeks ago Richard Harrington the Business Minister spoke at the annual Construction Sector Forum and made a particular point about the need for large contractors to pay their bills to subcontractors on time.

He highlighted a couple of cases where, as he put it, big businesses were using the money they owed to subcontractors as a form of financing within their own enterprise.

It’s quite clear that where subcontractors are being placed in the position where they will not get the work unless they agree to terms such as invoice date +60, or large retentions, this is unfair and to be blunt, a form of corporate bullying.

Yet I also see it on a very regular basis. At SuperSkills, we are always very wary of dealing with the Public Sector, because of previous difficulties in getting paid promptly.

There are government guidelines that are issued to different departments of state requiring them to adhere to quite strict standards when it comes to paying suppliers. However, it is equally clear that when you are told you’re not getting paid on time there is little you can do about it.

We used to do quite a lot of work for a school in a nearby town and the Admin staff seemed to take a pride in messing our payments about. They were quite surprised when we told them to look for a new provider.

Without naming names, there are some councils that we simply will not do business with and one very large department of state that has to pay us in advance at the time of placing their order.

Interestingly, the Department for Work and Pensions is a good example of an organisation that is set up a system that pays its suppliers promptly. We do a lot of work for them and they make it dead easy to invoice and get paid.  (Why there’s conversely such a delay for Universal Credit payments is beyond me…….)

But it’s not just big business or the public sector – one of our assessors had this experience recently on a shop refurbishment and he’s soon at the Small Claims Court to get his money.

He’s avoided using a solicitor, because with the greatest of respect to them as a profession, they do tend to be the only people holding any money after the dust has settled…………………

Looking at social media it seems that late payment is pretty endemic in the construction sector and one reads with interest posts where particularly creative means of persuasion have been used.  (And I don’t mean “sending the boys round”.)

I confess to smiling yesterday evening reading about a plumber who had secretly installed an additional isolating valve to the water supply, the location of which was only disclosed after payment had been received!

It really is time late payment of people further down the food chain was clamped down on – not least because it means those small businesses can’t pay their bills and funnily enough, they have a greater motivation to do so.

A few weeks ago Richard Harrington the Business Minister spoke at the annual Construction Sector Forum and made a particular point about the need for large contractors to pay their bills to subcontractors on time. He highlighted a couple of cases where, as he put it, big businesses were using the money they owed to […] Read More...

Ever Thought Of Being An NVQ Assessor?

NVQ Assessor Interviewing Candidate

NVQ Assessor Mark Smith (R) Interviewing a Candidate at SuperSkills

I meet dozens of construction workers every week and speak to even more on the telephone.  (At this point, I may need to point out to people who’ve Googled “Become an NVQ Assessor” and landed here, don’t be put off – most of this applies to other sectors as well………………………..)

Almost without exception the men and women I speak to are hard-working people, who play by the rules and want to get on in life.  They work in a tough industry, have a great pride in the skills they have acquired over the years and in most cases are self-employed.

However, not very many have a “Plan B”.  Without the ability to do their job, they don’t have something to fall back on if something happens.

The most likely cause of being unable to work will be injury or illness – contrary to what has become a common misconception, the risk of being unable to work because of falling demand has reduced enormously.

The Government’s desire to increase infrastructure projects, to build houses and to stimulate the economy means there will be years of work ahead for people who know what they are doing and get on with the job.

Construction Sector Work-Related Injuries

Construction Sector Work-Related Injuries (Source – HSE)

Disgracefully, deaths and serious injury in construction continue to follow a predictable pattern.  Most deaths are caused by falls from height.  Far too many people get lung disease from silica dust.  64% of work-related illness or injury is musculo-skeletal.  Lifting and handling accounts for 22% of injury (Source: Health & Safety Executive)

What would you do?

Just think for a minute.  What is your “Plan B”?  God forbid, you have an accident.  Your years using that palm sander means you lose feeling in your fingers and can’t hold a brush.  Some muppet drops a brick off a scaffold as you are getting out of a truck and before you’ve got your hard hat on.

But let’s not always fear the worst……

You’re a construction worker in the trades.  But deep inside, when Monday comes, your heartstrings do not play a melodious tune.  Not because you’ve got a hangover.  Not even because Arsene Wenger is convinced just being in the “Top Four” is the pinnacle of success and The Arsenal dropped a point or two (yet again) on Saturday.

You know you’ve got more to offer.

That youngster you showed how to fit a lintel last week sucked in knowledge like a sponge and it made you feel great.

Young-Person-Being-Taught-Construction Skills

Young People Can Be Like Sponges When It Comes To Knowledge

The Site Agent put you in charge of a team sorting out snags and took you for a pint because he was so pleased.

You knew what had to be done.  You told people what was required.  You checked it was to the right standard.  You provided a report.

Those are exactly the skills Trainers and NVQ Assessors need.  I quite often come across people who want to be an NVQ Assessor and they ask me what they need to do to become one.  I’m always happy to help.

Will you get a job if you qualify as an NVQ Assessor?

You betcha!  (Slight reservation – this does depend on your talent and motivation.  Getting fed up with being outdoors is not a good reason.)

The Government plan to increase the numbers of Apprentices during this Parliament by 3 million.  The industry is becoming more regulated.  Companies are having to get their staff qualified.  The number of good  NVQ Assessors is not growing sufficiently to meet demand.

What qualifications will you need to become an NVQ Assessor?

I always tell people the criteria I use to recruit people into SuperSkills.  I always start with the Personal Skills. The right motivation – to bring on the next generation.  To share your knowledge.  To help develop the UK’s skills base.  Diligence – the ability to do a 100% job every time.  Customer awareness.  Predictability.  Punctuality.  Reliability.  The list goes on – basic employability skills.

Literacy and Numeracy.  As my Granny would say – being able to read, write and do numbers.  Here I need to use some “training jargon”.  You need English and Maths at Level 2 – which is GCSE A*-C or the equivalent.

NVQ Assessor Qualification.  The current qualification is known as TAQA – Training, Assessment and Quality Assurance (Click the link to see the details.)  It is at Level 3 – the equivalent of an “A” Level (and you can progress to Level 4).  It will take about six months.  If you’re in or near Yorkshire, try YH Training Services, who deliver it and are excellent.

Teaching Qualification.  Don’t worry – you don’t have to get a set of leather patches for your elbows and head off to College for three years – the standard qualification is known as “Petals” – from the acronym PTTLS – which stands for Preparing To Teach In The Lifelong Learning Sector.  To find a local provider, Google “PTTLS .  A suggestion – choose carefully.  Check reviews from students.  There is a mixed bag of provision, but a fairly standard price.  If you want to be an NVQ Assessor, you’ll be investing a lot of time and money.

Trade Qualification.  You will need Level 3 NVQ in the Trade for which you want to be an NVQ Assessor.  There.  I’ve said it.  I know a lot of people will disagree.  They say “Assessment is assessment is assessment”.  Remember – I’m describing the criteria we use at SuperSkills.  There are some providers that will let people do NVQ Assessment without that level of qualification.  (Or even any!)  We just happen to take the view that when you are assessing somebody, you need to know what you are talking about.

NVQ Assessor Photographs Candidate

NVQ Assessment At SuperSkills Is Quick, Simple & Convenient. Click For Details

(While I’m at it – a quiet nudge.  Did I mention we can help you get your own NVQ?)

Experience.  (Lots of.)  By this I mean detailed experience in a specific field.  It’s got to be current.  All SuperSkills assessors also practise their trade on a commercial basis when they are not assessing.  We also only use them to assess their own trade.

There is such a thing as a “Swiss Army Knife”, which can do everything, but I’ve always preferred to use a screwdriver if I want to get a screw done up properly.  My eyes glaze over when I hear of an “NVQ Assessor” (the quotes are deliberate) who can “assess” bricklaying, dry lining, plant operations and roof tiling.

Some trades go together – plastering and tiling, for example.  But there is a limit.  I always bear in mind the candidate.  He or she will have a fierce pride in trade skills acquired over years – decades even.  Credibility is essential.  In my experience, trades can spot a faker a mile off.  But even more importantly – people pay hard-earned money to get their qualifications and they have a right to expect the best at all stages in the process.

The future of the Construction Industry

If you’ve already got your “Plan B” – that’s great.  Tick the box, move on.  Site Management, Health & Safety Adviser, run a Pub, form a Blues Band, you name it.  Congratulations.

If not – think how you can help develop future generations of Construction Workers.  Become an NVQ Assessor!

Construction Workers need "Plan B" to guarantee their future. Scroll down to find out how to become an NVQ Assessor Read More...

Myths, Traditions and Understanding

It’s about this time (Nine o’clock on the First) in January that most people discover they have already broken their “New Year Resolution”.  The tell-tale cigarette butt, the rather nice (sugared) coffee, that muffin, left over from Christmas, that tasted wonderful.  “These simple things…………………” remind you that your pledge to treat your body as a temple “come the New Year” has once again failed.

Yet it is all part of our annual festivities surrounding Christmas and the New Year, at which time Christians celebrate the birth of Christ in Nazareth, Jews mark the re-dedication of a temple with Hannukah and Druids acknowledge the shortest day of the year by celebrating the Winter Solstice.

The New Year does present a time for reflection and whilst breaking an addiction (smoking, sugar or over eating) is perhaps too ambitious, it could also be in the smaller, personal and day-to-day interaction we could make a few changes that will help us and those around us feel a lot better.

The smile you receive when you let a fellow motorist out.  See?  You both feel good.  (And the muttered expletive when they come out, but don’t acknowledge your courtesy, can give you a similar release of serotonin…..)

Perhaps Mrs W Had A Point When She Said To Clear Out The "Man Drawer"

Perhaps Mrs W Had A Point When She Said To Clear Out The “Man Drawer”

Getting your office/van/desk/bedroom (delete as necessary) tidy.  Great feeling, no cost.  (Says the man who has just cleared the “Man Drawer” during the Christmas break.  Anyone want some Omani Rials?)

But the best by far has got to be “Learning something”.  There is no better means of taking control of your own life.  One of the greatest facilities for information gathering is at our disposal twenty four hours a day.  And what do we use it for?  Looking at pictures of cats.  Photographing meals.  Shouting (METAPHORICALLY!).

By now you’re probably thinking a person who owns a training business is promoting “Learning” as a good thing.  What a surprise.  But I am not REALLY NOT saying anything about what SuperSkills offers.  People who read this blog are usually people who know what we offer already and they tend to get to it last, which is why we don’t use it to sell stuff.

By “Learning something” I mean just setting yourself a goal that means you will not avoid doing things because you lack the “know how”.  Or not offering an opinion because you’re just an “Ordinary person”.  (And by the way, be prepared to see a posting on just that concept of “Ordinary People” here soon.)  If you don’t know – find out.

360,000 Videos On You Tube

360,000 Videos On You Tube About “Changing A Plug”

A friend who is an electrician gets asked to change fuses in  plugs by people.  I’m not kidding.  They would happily pay him, rather than look on You Tube.  There are 360,000 UK results on You Tube for that subject and people call him.  Bonkers.

And it is really important to know stuff at the moment, especially as we head towards a fundamental change in our trading relationship and security alliances over the next few years.  We can’t afford to outsource these things to the “clever people”.

Do you know that if we do not have a trade deal with the European Union we still have to comply with their standards for goods and packaging to sell things in the EU – even if we are doing so within the terms of the World Trade Organisation?  And does that matter to you as an individual?  I’m pretty sure that as I don’t manufacture stuff – let alone sell it to the EU 27 nations, the question of having two different production lines won’t matter to me.  But if the UK has a different standard in years to come, my pal who makes truck parts is quite worried about the prospect.  And that matters not only to him, but all the people who work for him.

Where Did All These USB Cables Come From?

Where Did All These USB Cables Come From?

And it probably matters to the salesman in Wickes who told me they “Aren’t allowed to say their products are made in England because it’s racist”.  Which of course it’s not.  But it is true to say that EU Member States have agreed to forego national identification of products, because they are all made to the same “CE” standards.  But it does explain why my new Utility Room is being kitted out in products from B&Q.

So as we go into 2019, perhaps you can join me in just trying to learn something new every day – something that will help you in life.  Perhaps it might be the answer to the question I asked myself the other day…………….Just how did I accumulate so many USB cables?

A friend who is an electrician gets asked to change fuses in  plugs by people.  I'm not kidding.  They would happily pay him, rather than look on You Tube.  There are 360,000 UK results on You Tube for that subject and people call him.  Bonkers. Read More...

“Low Skilled” Trades? Give Me A Break!

Life has many disappointments, but high on the list must surely be when somebody looks down on you.  And there is no surer way to do that than to demean somebody’s occupation.

The Class Sketch - Iconic Take On The Class System From 1960's TV

The Class Sketch – Iconic Take On The Class System From 1960’s TV

This country has spent many years seemingly moving away from the old-fashioned “class system”, where the unpredictability of birth set your pathway in life.  But occasionally there are attempts by some people to suggest they are “better” in some way than their fellow citizens.

I remember in my first job – a Bank Clerk – seeing one of the customers had his occupation listed as “Gentleman”.  Puzzled, I asked what this meant, to be told in reverential terms that “he doesn’t have to work for a living”.  Shades of Bertie Wooster!  Of course these days, a set of numbers in the National Lottery can put you in that position. So can being able to throw, kick, or run with a ball.

But as a wise old owl once told me when I was about to get a bollocking for some misdemeanour at work, “Just imagine he’s got his trousers down” – that’s certainly something to create equality.

Yet we have a number of structures to segregate us into groups – my postcode will help tell my insurers how much my premium should be.  It will add or subtract points from my credit rating.  Having a mortgage rather than paying rent will do the same.  Occupations count as well.  Try getting car insurance if you’re a musician or an actor if you want to find out.

My education level and occupation will inform advertisers, as well as politicians.  There are two groups that you hear about quite often – the “ABC1’s” and the “C2’s”.  Advertising – particularly online – has got more sophisticated over the years.  But when newspapers call me to sell advertising space, they will give the breakdown of their readership in terms of ABC1 and C2.  (Mind you – it won’t make a blind bit of difference, print advertising just doesn’t pay its way for a business like ours.  That’s why print media companies are having such a tough time.)

Political parties know they won’t win an election unless they have the support of the C2’s – better known as “White Van Man”  and his Missus – (usually referred to by politicians as “Schoolgate Mums” with a complete lack of awareness as to how stereotypical this might be).

Whilst we go through life knowing these truths, to be looked down upon is still something that rankles.

SuperSkills is a place where trade skills matter.  We have the unenviable job of assessing whether somebody has that level of skill, experience and knowledge to be regarded as a “Skilled Worker”.  That’s the difference between having a job or not in the trade these days.  And people are rightly proud of their skills.  They have taken years to learn and earn.  That’s why we value and respect them.

That’s why I was so annoyed to learn that as part of the preparations for Brexit, the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee has decided that all construction trades are to be regarded as “Low Skilled”.

That means a number of things – not least for the number of people coming into the trades.  It’s been difficult enough trying to persuade schools to promote construction as a career for young people to consider without putting this additional obstacle in the way.  Trade rates of pay are now higher than they have been in ten years.  Yearly earnings north of £50k are common.  If you want to work in London, even higher.  A “Head of Department” in a school will earn on average about £43k.  But still the careers staff won’t promote construction as a valuable and rewarding career.
Tom Fitzpatrick - Editor, Construction News

Tom Fitzpatrick, Editor of Construction News said recently:

“Imagine the kids sitting in school hearing about ‘low-skilled’ jobs.

Then ask yourself why any pupil would choose to pursue a trade, when the prime minister herself thinks it’s of secondary importance.”

Classing All Construction Trades As "Low-Skilled" Risks Damaging The CSCS Card Scheme

Classing All Construction Trades As “Low-Skilled” Risks Damaging The CSCS Card Scheme

Additionally, the construction sector employers have all signed up to the Construction Skills Certification Scheme – to ensure the workforce has the right skills and qualifications for the particular jobs they are doing.  The CSCS scheme is in danger of being undermined by this proposal.

And I wonder if this decision has actually been informed by regard of perceived social status of construction workers by those who make up the Migration Advisory Committee – or is it just they are woefully ill-informed by the highly technical nature of the trades involved and the level of knowledge and skill required to undertake these jobs?

Are they really suggesting that gas cookers all over the country have been fitted by “Low-Skilled” workers?  Or your electrical wiring?  This is nonsense.  But it’s in danger of becoming “Government Approved” nonsense.

There’s another issue.  Placing construction trades in the category of “Low Skilled” work means they cannot recruit trades from overseas using the “Tier Two” Visa.  When this applies to workers from the EU after Brexit, firms will not be able to recruit staff in the way they have in the past.

The construction sector needs at least 40,000 new entrants a year – just to keep pace with last year’s Ministerial promises about house-building.  Both political parties have added to these numbers since then.

About 9000 people graduated construction Apprenticeship programmes last year – and the number of youngsters starting has fallen since then.

Is The Person Wiring Your House REALLY A Low-Skilled Worker?

Is The Person Wiring Your House REALLY A Low-Skilled Worker?

That’s a shortfall – each year – of 31,000.  It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out we actually need Pavlov the Plasterer as well as Bob the Builder if we are to build the houses the country so desperately needs.

That’s why we need to start valuing people – regardless of their occupation – for the contribution they make to society – but in particular, to get away from this poorly thought out proposal that lumps all the construction workers together with this blanket “Low Skilled” label.

The Migration Advisory Committee should think again.

Life has many disappointments, but high on the list must surely be when somebody looks down on you.  And there is no surer way to do that than to demean somebody’s occupation. This country has spent many years seemingly moving away from the old-fashioned “class system”, where the unpredictability of birth set your pathway in […] Read More...

Some Of The Most Difficult Calls We Get Are From People Whose CSCS Cards Have Expired……….Or Who Have Been Putting Off The “Evil Day………

NVQ Assessments In Progress

Here at SuperSkills, we care about our customers.  I’ve thought long and hard about writing this, because the last thing I want to do is unnecessarily scare people – or worse still, for suggestions to be made that we’re indulging in some sort of “Project Fear”.  However, it’s sometimes right to tell people something they might not want to hear.

I always worry about the phone calls we get from people who have allowed their CSCS Card to expire before they make arrangements to be assessed – or who have never obtained one.

It is particularly concerning when they have already been sent away from a site, because they are going to have to find work elsewhere, on a site that has not become as strict as most when it comes to cards, or even go back to the domestic market.

Historically, we got those calls about once or twice a week.

However, I get the impression things are getting more difficult for people who have yet to get their NVQ’s sorted out.

This morning, I have received two calls – one of them first thing today – from trades who have been turned away.  The second was from a gang of people due to start on a new site.

CSCS Cards - Required to get on sitesWe will move heaven and earth to get your assessment sorted as soon as we can – but we have no control over the time it takes for your qualification to be issued by CSkills Awards.  We always tell people to allow up to a month for that certificate to arrive (it’s sometimes quicker, but we can’t guarantee that) so if the site you need to work on says “No Card, No Job”, that’s a problem.

We’re good here at SuperSkills – even if we do say it ourselves – when we say quick, simple and convenient, we mean it.  Click here to get all your questions about CSCS Cards answered.

We do find some sites will allow people on if they have arranged their assessment and others if the individual has a temporary CSCS Card issued when they have started their assessment programme.  But I’m not sure I would bet my mortgage payments on it.

That’s why we were the first training provider in the country to set up an “Easy Payment Scheme” – open to all our clients.   We recognise that getting the NVQ assessment is an unexpected – and unwanted – expense, so we try to take as much pain as possible out of the process.  You can find out about all our NVQ Assessments here.

So – if you need to get your NVQ, just call us on 01845 527 445 and we will get you in for assessment as soon as we can – then you can relax in the knowledge you won’t be one of those facing the prospect of getting sent home early.

Here at SuperSkills, we care about our customers.  I’ve thought long and hard about writing this, because the last thing I want to do is unnecessarily scare people – or worse still, for suggestions to be made that we’re indulging in some sort of “Project Fear”.  However, it’s sometimes right to tell people something they might […] Read More...

That Was Interesting, Wasn’t It?

Settling down for the last evening of the year is always a time for reflection.  2017 has been nothing if not interesting.

Having started with a gallop as January and February seemed to fly by, it seemed the period after Easter reduced pace and just meandered along.  The break for Easter was followed by a period where the whole country was distracted by the election and the subsequent inconclusive result.

That had an interesting effect on the major political issue of the day, that of Brexit – and the differences between “Remain” and “Leave” supporters seemed to get more, rather than less, great.  At the time of writing, it appears that at last some certainty has been given to those who come from the EU27 nations and who have made their lives here.

And that’s important – because there is no doubt the construction sector will need their skills for many years to come.

It is well known there is a shortage of skilled workers in the UK – which doesn’t just impact on the need for housing – it has an effect on all of the infrastructure projects we are undertaking.

What many people aren’t aware of is the  number of new entrants to the sector when compared to those needed.  The CITB has calculated there is a requirement for 40,000 new entrants every year.  Presently, about 9000 Apprentices graduate each year.  That’s a big gap.  And recent changes to the way in which apprenticeship training is funded and delivered have not helped the problem.  Quite a number of training providers have withdrawn from delivering apprenticeships – us included – whilst the changes settle in.

In many other cases, training providers have been uncertain how much capacity they will be able to offer – and for many, they have discovered their original offering has been reduced by half because there is insufficient money to go round.

We have no doubt these issues will be overcome, but some months ago took the decision to stop our apprenticeship programmes until matters settled and concentrate on what we do best – help people get their NVQ’s.

Having reflected on that, one’s thoughts turn to the year ahead.  There is, as ever, much to do and it is at this time we all think about how we will be different as individuals.  Some will plan to give up smoking, others to reduce their alcohol consumption.

I always make a resolution to plan my time better.  That usually lasts until I get to the office and one of my colleagues wants my advice.  This year, I have a cunning plan, as Baldrick might say.  My plan will now contain a slot every morning to be available for the “Have you got a minute” conversations and decisions.  That expression has got a lot to answer for – usually those “minutes” turn out to be about half an hour!

But the resolution I made many years ago has withstood the test of time, which is to put “work” in perspective.  It’s always a risk when you run your own business, that you will work too many hours – the “work” becomes too important to leave on one side.  I have found it will usually wait until I’m ready to do it – and I’ll be far more productive when I do turn my hand to it.

So if I can offer some advice, work cannot read children a story, but will wait whilst you do….it will not see the school play, but be there when you get back from it and it will certainly be there after your house is empty again because your kids have grown up – a much shorter time than you think!

So, to our customers, thank you for your support.  To those thinking of joining us, we look forward to seeing how we can help.  And to all people engaged in construction, their families and friends, we send our very best wishes for a happy, prosperous and safe 2018!

Settling down for the last evening of the year is always a time for reflection. 2017 has been nothing if not interesting. Scroll down to see more................. Read More...

Cyber Security – Don’t Click That Link!

Computer Hacker

Not A Career Choice For Everyone

I really wonder what is the attraction to, or satisfaction with, sending round computer viruses.  It doesn’t strike me as a career choice with a consistent income stream for the participants.  I’m not sure spending your life employing what must be a considerable amount of intellect to developing something that only exists to cause a problem for somebody else can be that rewarding, unless you have a particularly strange mindset.

I get the bit about ransomware, the delivery of a bug that locks people out of their computers.  Those whose computers get infected with these bugs have a difficult choice – whether or not to pay the ransom.  I can understand why some do – but I’d never want to have the choice.

I also understand about so-called “Trojan” bugs that will start sending your keystrokes to people viewing your activity, or retain password details.  People can use these to steal your identity, access your online accounts – do a multiplicity of things that will cause you a number of problems.

That’s why I have always been pretty switched on when it comes to internet security – and I got my first account (with Compuserve no less) in 1996.

As a business owner, I am always worried about data security and the ability of my staff to use their computers.  That’s more complicated than it seems – especially as we have a network which can also be taken over by ransomware.  It’s generally accepted the NHS hacking incident earlier in 2017 was caused by a single member of staff clicking on a link in an email.  The NHS is one of the largest employers in the world.  Rather than castigate them for the occurrence as some did, I reflected on why it hadn’t happened more often.

I probably get about twenty attempts to “phish” my computer every day, even with  a decent suite of security software installed.  That’s not including the entreaties to liberate somebody from a jail, or assist with the recovery of an inheritance willed to me from a relative I never knew I had.  I have a simple rule – don’t click the link!  Unless I know you, no matter what the email subject is, even if it’s got past the anti virus software, a link will mean it is consigned to the bin.  To err on the side of caution, even if you are a bosom buddy of mine, an unexpected link will cause that mail to suffer the same fate.

Email Screenshot - Even The URL Looked Correct At First Glance...

Email Screenshot – Even The URL Looked Correct At First Glance…

Which is why I was really cross with myself on Wednesday.  You guessed it – one of the little blighters got through.  There was the email – purporting to be from BT Business, with my “Online Bill” linking to it.  I get a fair amount of mail from BT, so the arrival was not a cause for suspicion.  Even the sender’s URL was (at first glance) appropriate and given I was talking to my book keeper about the BT account at the time, I clicked – probably without enough thought.

A couple of seconds elapsed.

My browser didn’t open.

I hovered the pointer over the link and there was no sign of BT in the Alt Text.

I said a word my book keeper hasn’t heard me utter, then to her surprise, frantically pulled cables out of the back of my desktop – power, quickly followed by the ethernet cable connecting me to our network.

Trojan Virus - Eradicated!

The Trojan Virus We Found

A telephone conversation with our IT contractor put my mind at rest a little – I’d done the right thing by removing the cables to isolate the machine.  Some checks with colleagues and it was clear I hadn’t screwed up our network.

But the episode reinforced the message.  Cyber security is an issue that should be at the forefront of all our minds.  Even though after delivery to our IT Guru for a thorough going over and clearout (which identified the virus and established it hadn’t triggered because I had acted so quickly) the machine is back in use, I am reminded of the risks.

We dodged it this time.  But we have to do that every time.  Meanwhile, up in their bedrooms, or being coerced to work for an organised crime syndicate, the opposition are still at it.

(And if you are a BT customer – be careful of that “Online Bill”………………….

I really wonder what is the attraction to, or satisfaction with, sending round computer viruses.  It doesn’t strike me as a career choice with a consistent income stream for the participants.  I’m not sure spending your life employing what must be a considerable amount of intellect to developing something that only exists to cause a […] Read More...

If You’ve Made Your Life Here, We Want You To Stay

Our last post confirmed and welcomed the agreement reached in the Brexit negotiations about the rights of EU nationals who had moved from other nations to work in the UK.

The Prime Minister has written an open letter to all people outlining what has been agreed and we reproduce it below for the benefit of those who have not seen it elsewhere:Prime Minister Theresa May

I know our country would be poorer if you left and I want you to stay

As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I am proud that more than three million EU citizens have chosen to make your homes and livelihoods here in our country.

I greatly value the depth of the contributions you make – enriching every part of our economy, our society, our culture and our national life. I know our country would be poorer if you left and I want you to stay.So from the very beginning of the UK’s negotiations to leave the European Union I have consistently said that protecting your rights – together with the rights of UK nationals living in EU countries – has been my first priority.

You made your decision to live here without any expectation that the UK would leave the EU. So I have said that I want you to be able carry on living your lives as before.

But I know that on an issue of such significance for you and your families, there has been an underlying anxiety which could only be addressed when the fine details of some very complex and technical issues had been worked through and the foundations for a formal agreement secured.

If You've Made Your Life Here, We Want You To Stay

When we leave the European Union, you will have your rights written into UK law.  So I am delighted that in concluding the first phase of the negotiations that is exactly what we have achieved.

The details are set out in the Joint Report on progress published on Friday by the UK government and the European Commission.When we leave the European Union, you will have your rights written into UK law.

This will be done through the Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill which we will bring forward after we have completed negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement itself.

Your rights will then be enforced by UK courts. Where appropriate, our courts will pay due regard to relevant ECJ case law, and we have also agreed that for a period of eight years – where existing case law is not clear – our courts will be able to choose to ask the ECJ for an interpretation prior to reaching their own decision.

So as we take back control of our laws, you can be confident not only that your rights will be protected in our courts, but that there will be a consistent interpretation of these rights in the UK and in the European Union.

We have agreed with the European Commission that we will introduce a new settled status scheme under UK law for EU citizens and their family members, covered by the Withdrawal Agreement.

If you already have five years of continuous residence in the UK at the point we leave the EU – on 29 March 2019 – you will be eligible for settled status. And if you have been here for less than five years you will be able to stay until you have reached the five year threshold.

As a result of the agreement we have reached in the negotiations, with settled status, your close family members will be free to join you here in the UK after we have left the EU. This includes existing spouses, unmarried partners, children, dependent parents and grandparents, as well as children born or adopted outside of the UK after 29th March 2019.

Your healthcare rights, pension and other benefit provisions will remain the same as they are today. This means that those of you who have paid into the UK system – and indeed UK nationals who have paid into the system of an EU Member State – can benefit from what you have put in and continue to benefit from existing co-ordination rules for future contributions.

We have also agreed to protect the rights of those who are in a cross-border situation at the point of our withdrawal and entitled to a UK European Health Insurance Card.  This includes, for example, tourists for the duration of their stay, students for the duration of their course and UK nationals resident in another EU Member State.

The agreement we have reached includes reciprocal rules to protect existing decisions to recognise professional qualifications – for example for doctors and architects.

And it also enables you to be absent from the UK for up to five years without losing your settled status – more than double the period allowed under current EU law.There will be a transparent, smooth and streamlined process to enable you to apply for settled status from the second half of next year. It will cost no more than applying for a passport.  And if you already have a valid permanent resident document you will be able to have your status converted to settled status free of charge.

We are also working closely with Switzerland and EEA Member States to ensure their citizens in the UK also benefit from these arrangements.I have spent many hours discussing these issues with all of the other 27 EU leaders over the last eighteen months as well as with President Juncker, President Tusk and the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier.

I am confident that when the European Council meets later this week it will agree to proceed on this basis.  And I will do everything I can to ensure that we do.

So right now, you do not have to do anything at all.

You can look forward, safe in the knowledge that there is now a detailed agreement on the table in which the UK and the EU have set out how we intend to preserve your rights – as well as the rights of UK nationals living in EU countries.

For we have ensured that these negotiations put people first.

That is what I promised to do and that is what I will continue to do at every stage of this process.

I wish you and all your families a great Christmas and a very happy New Year.

Our last post confirmed and welcomed the agreement reached in the Brexit negotiations about the rights of EU nationals who had moved from other nations to work in the UK. Read More...