The delivery of a fit for purpose apprenticeship program is a major component of the construction industry’s efforts to close a skills gap which, Brexit issues aside, continues to be at the mercy of increasing retirement rates and a poor pipeline of younger new entrants.
The Farmer report described the skills gap as a “ticking time bomb” and predicted a decline of 20-25% in the workforce over the next decade. Construction Industry Training Board data shows that the overall appeal of construction as a career option for young people is low, not helped by high profile failures like Carillion.
Parents often want their children to be doctors or lawyers, but why not engineers, project managers, surveyors or town planners? These are the skills that design the communities that we live in and are the fabric of our society.
The Government’s Apprenticeship Levy was introduced in 2017 to encourage employers to hire apprentices but in its first year there was a 26% drop in new apprenticeships, perhaps due to a lack of clarity about the new initiative.
The latest figures from the National Audit Office show that UK employers deposited £2.2bn into the levy in 2017-18 but only 9% has been accessed and reinvested in staff training programs.
Businesses have to draw the total value of their levy payments to fund apprenticeships within two years of the payment dates or after that they are forfeit to the Treasury. But many companies still see it as a stealth tax and argue that if take up is to improve the Government needs to simplify the bureaucracy and better explain that the programme covers a very wide range of subject specialisms at many levels.
Many projects require contractors to create a specific number of apprenticeships and job placements but there is evidence that in many cases these individuals return to the training pool once a project is complete. Having the security of a place being allocated and a potential future in employment at the end of an apprenticeship is the best motivation to encourage take up. So maybe the KPI’s on these projects need to be reviewed to reflect that and improve the likelihood of a job at the of the process.
For any chance of apprenticeships to close the skills gap in construction, the sector needs to work together and engage more effectively with schools and pupils to overcome the negative perceptions that currently exist. Stronger links to education would result in the teaching of relevant skills and a clear understanding of the opportunities and rewards that are on offer in the construction sector. The industry needs to overcome the barriers in schools that are so often heavily focused on exam results and don’t have adequate resources to properly consider where pupils will gain employment. Perhaps the education sector needs to build in processes to measure their effective contribution to future employment, which is an important indicator of the value of school learning.
We need to promote the benefits of working on projects that for many years will serve our communities and remain as long term legacies.