Apprentices: A solution for the construction industry?

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The construction industry is currently struggling with a shortage of skilled workers. City & Guilds have revealed that last year, 87% of employers were facing difficulty with recruiting the skilled workers for their business. Official figures from Construction News show overseas workers make up 12.6% of the UK’s construction workforce, with 5.7% of those coming from the EU. Within London, this figure soars to 60%. Along with this, 30% of construction workers born in Britain are now over the age of 50. This means businesses will soon notice the gaps left by those coming to retirement age in the next few years, especially when Brexit instigates. 

Some experts are pointing towards apprentices as the potential answer surrounding the uncertainty that lies ahead. Apprenticeships could be more crucial than ever before, especially following Brexit. National Apprenticeship Week was at the beginning of March, and with an influx of publicity circulating, it has encouraged employers to think about the future of their workforces — could apprentices fill the employee shortage? 

The top five sector choices for apprentice encompass engineering and manufacturing, construction, planning, and the built environment. In the 2016/17 academic year, the Engineering and Manufacturing sector witnessed 74,000 starts, while the Construction sector had 21,000. Leading UK housebuilder, Redrow, released its second annual research report which revealed that, thanks to a positive shift in attitudes and the perception of construction, the apprenticeship pathway has improved, with a 14% increase in young people considering a career in the sector. 

Karen Jones, Group HR Director at Redrow, responded to the report with: “This year’s results illustrate that apprenticeships and careers in construction are being viewed in a more positive light. 

“Apprenticeships are a way of futureproofing the UK workforce, particularly in sectors where there is a skills shortage, such as construction, so it is pleasing to see that progress is being made.”

Last year saw the introduction of a new apprenticeship levy, offering a new way of apprenticeship programme funding. Whilst some employers have snubbed the new levy as just being ‘another tax’, both large and small employers can benefit from the fund, meaning that 90% of apprenticeship training costs are funded by the government. Furthermore, employers within the construction sector can use up to 10% of the funding to train employees across the full supply chain — something not to be snubbed with the current shortage in skilled workers. 

The success of apprenticeships is already being observed by employers. According to UK Construction Media, a huge 86% of employers say that apprenticeships are helping them develop skills relevant to their organisation, and 78% believe they help improve productivity. 

In line with this, CEO of Develop Training, Chris Wood expressed confidence in apprenticeship programmes: “Working with some of the UK’s largest utility firms, our success rates have been very high. We and our customers have no doubt that, managed well, apprenticeships do work.

“New initiatives such as Trailblazer Apprenticeships and the Apprenticeship Levy have raised awareness across the UK. Even so, and despite huge skills shortages, many employers are still only scratching the surface of what they could be doing to use apprenticeships to attract new people to join the industry and improve the skills of existing employees.”

With the current and forecasted shortage of skilled workers in the industry, apprenticeships are shaping up to be the successful solution to meeting the demand for workers. Downing Street has committed itself to creating three million new apprenticeships by 2020. The construction industry could be on the receiving end of a large chunk of those programmes, which will be an opportunity to deliver a new generation of highly skilled workers — something that the industry is experiencing a lack of right now. In fact, the Director of the National Apprentice Service, Sue Husband, predicts that 2018 will be crucial for programmes. As more opportunities become available, now could be the time to cut yourself a slice of the apprenticeship programme success — and secure your future workforce now. 


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