CITB to fund mental health training to support construction apprentices

THE Construction industry training board (CITB) is investing £90,000 to fund a pilot scheme which will provide mental health support for apprentices from the start of their construction industry careers.

Optima UK will train further education construction tutors to be Mental Health First Aiders in order to support apprentices during their learning. Apprentices will also be given mental health awareness training in ‘bite size’ four-hour sessions.

The UK-wide pilot will aim to understand how mental health education and support can contribute to improved retention for individuals during their apprenticeship in construction, as well as reducing their likelihood of experiencing mental health issues.

The courses will be delivered to colleges across the UK. In the space of a year, 464 tutors and 464 apprentices will have been trained, with one-to-one support also offered to around 100 apprentices.

The CITB investment comes after a study compiled by the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity and CITB, which highlighted the toll poor mental health is taking. Research showed 26% of construction workers had experienced suicidal thoughts and 91% felt overwhelmed. Tragically, two construction workers take their own lives each day.

CITB CEO Tim Balcon said, “We need to make sure everyone is at ease talking about their mental health and this comes down to a culture of making it OK to speak up… giving apprentices the confidence to do that from day one, will hopefully make them feel supported in the industry. When staff are supported and happy in their work, and in my view, they will stay in the industry longer.”

CITB explained that at scaffolding firm CASS UK, a culture of mental health support played a major role in giving two young staff members the confidence to come to the aid of a vulnerable person they realised had climbed up on scaffolding on a site they were working on in Exeter.

Karl and Kieran were quickly aware that something was not as it should be when they saw someone trying to climb the scaffold. They stopped what they were doing and took the time to speak to this individual. They managed to talk him down and stayed with him until help arrived.

Kieran said, “We knew that what we were seeing wasn’t normal, and there was no doubt that we wanted to help this young man. We didn’t see it as being an act of kindness or wanted any credit for what we did, we just didn’t want this person to do anything that we could stop or help with.”

Karl added, “We are aware of the rise in mental health especially in the construction industry and we wouldn’t hesitate to help anyone again in this situation.”

Tim Balcon commented, “CITB funding with help foster this positive attitude to mental health from day one of your construction career and we don’t expect everyone to be hero like these two young men but the knowledge it is good to talk will foster a healthy attitude and in turn save lives.”

Larraine Boorman, CEO of Optima UK, said, “Optima is so proud to be involved in this ground-breaking project. The CITB is to be congratulated, first for its research into a major issue in the industry, and secondly for then taking action by launching this pilot project. As we can see, the statistics show there is a real problem in the sector, but with the right training, education, and support, we can make a real difference to people’s lives.”

Working with CITB, Optima UK will be rolling out an awareness campaign aimed at colleges, tutors, and apprentices, with materials based around the questions: Are We Ok? Are You OK?