AS the construction industry emerges from the pandemic, Scottish colleges are well-placed to support and boost recovery despite the challenges ahead.
David Innes, newly-appointed Associate Principal of the Faculty of Construction at South Lanarkshire College, believes the signs are positive.
“Things could have gone one of two ways for the industry,” he explains. “Either, we could have been faced with widespread closures of sites and high unemployment, or we could start to see recovery, more job opportunities and good news.
“I believe the latter is the case and we are seeing that here at the College, in terms of our very positive apprentice numbers, and in wider news reporting. The jobs are there, particularly in the ‘green economy’. It is a challenge, but South Lanarkshire is well-equipped to deal with it in terms of resources and experienced staff.”
The College was recently awarded £149k to help retrain and upskill people to access jobs in the growing insulation industry. The support, from SSE, will help provide additional expert staff support for the College’s purpose-built Insulation Training Centre.
“We are well prepared to deal with the increasing focus in construction on renewables and the green economy – how we build, insulate, power our homes is changing and people are making much more informed choices about reducing their carbon emissions,” says Mr Innes.
“There are new materials and technologies, which continue to improve.
“With the COP26 climate change conference just around the corner, and the drive to meet government targets, the construction industry has to adapt and we have an important part to play in helping the sector rise to the challenge.”
Mr Innes joins the East Kilbride-based college with a wealth of experience and knowledge, having worked in the Further Education sector for more than 25 years.
“I have been involved in the management and development of several curriculum areas, including technology, business and engineering, but construction has always been at the heart of what I do,” he says.
“I’ve always been mechanically-minded, and interested in how things work.”
He adds, smiling: “Although initially, I wanted to be a milkman.
“I was a milk laddie, working in Armadale in West Lothian, from the age of 12 until I turned 16. I was earning £10 a week.
“I was sent off to an interview at the local technical college. I didn’t want to go at all. I remember turning up on my moped, putting my jacket, helmet and leather gloves on the desk and mumbling my way through some questions.
“However, the college obviously saw something in me, and I got a job. And it just developed from there.”
From trainee to part-time lecturer, then teaching full time and eventually entering management, Mr Innes has played key roles in a range of challenging situations, including restructurings and mergers, but few compare to the extremely difficult circumstances of the last 18 months.
“Life changed for everyone during Covid – it had a huge impact on the lives of both students and staff,” he says.
“A lot of work has been done on campus to allow us to bring students back – the Facilities team, for example, has done a great job and that work is ongoing as the term gets underway.”
Mr Innes adds: “Ask anyone in the college sector, and they will agree that students bring a campus to life, and we have all missed that buzz very much.
“Now, the focus is on consolidating what we do well, developing new courses and new partnerships with industry and the community, including getting more females into construction courses and ultimately helping people achieve positive destinations.
“It is about helping them to do the right course, at the right time of their lives to allow them to get a job, or take the next steps in their career or move on to further study.”
South Lanarkshire College Delivering Training at College Expo ‘21
Mr Innes intends to operate an ‘open door policy’ in his new role.
“I have experience as both a lecturer and a manager, and so I can understand the challenges faced by both sides,” he explains.
“Building respect and trust is key, and I’m hoping in these first few months of the role that I can get to know the staff properly and build relationships. For me, management has always been about interactions and a level of empathy, particularly with students, so I’m setting my stall out early, if you like.”
Mr Innes recognises there is anxiety, on the part of both students and staff, surrounding the return to on-campus learning full-time.
“The impact of Covid has been enormous and it’s understandable people are nervous, but South Lanarkshire College is working incredibly hard to ensure a safe and enjoyable return for everyone,” he explains. “We’re all really excited about getting things underway.”
For more details, see www.south-lanarkshire-college.ac.uk