The Conservative government set a target of 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020 in the 2015 Queen’s Speech. The Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 placed an obligation on the government to report annually on its progress towards meeting this target. Despite this ambition, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), said the goal of creating 3 million new apprenticeships between 2017 and 2020 was unrealistic, with policy makers not understanding how much could be achieved given the UK’s poor record in workplace training.
Construction, a traditionally apprentice-reliant industry, has also struggled to recruit the numbers required to reach these targets. Employers in the construction industry critique that the current apprenticeship system does not meet the needs of the built environment in order to address the skills gap.
The current funding schemes continue to be a barrier for many firms when it comes to recruiting an apprentice and up-skilling staff. Many construction firms are paying two levies (the Apprenticeship Levy and the CITB Levy) which creates a financial burden rather than opportunities to invest in apprentices and with so many funding pots available access to finance is made more complex for many SMEs.
We believe it is vital for the future of construction to have an apprenticeship system that works for the industry in order to address the skills gap. With the current labour landscape, unemployment levels continue to decline with fewer available skilled workers on the market. More must be done to stimulate recruitment for the construction industry and mechanisms to incentivise recruitment by small and medium enterprises who hire apprentices.
Importantly, the quantity starting on built environment apprenticeships should not be an indicator of success in its own right. Statistics showcase the low levels of competition and attainment on these apprenticeships, highlighting a plethora of potential issues. These might be as a result of low levels of pay, training or might centre around the more challenging aspects of construction that young people are not ready for such as early morning starts and the locational variations that are often inherent in construction.
Ensuring that apprenticeships are high quality is of the utmost importance. Those undertaking apprenticeships should have confidence that the skills they are learning will help them succeed, progress and thrive. It also means that employers will see the bottom-line return of a workforce with the right knowledge, skills and behaviours.
We have been at the heart of education in construction for decades and we believe that apprenticeships should offer longevity to ensure that learner needs are met.
We are working with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) to help shape the apprenticeship standards, ensuring they are high quality and meet the needs of those undertaking apprenticeships as well as those employing apprentices.