Apprenticeships are Back on the Agenda for the Professions

Neil Walker
Skills shortages, both professional and trade, are cause for concern in the construction industry. Attracting, training and retaining the next generation is vital to UK plc success.

There are acknowledged skills shortages in the construction industry, with succession planning giving cause for concern. This is an ageing sector - Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) reports that 400,000 skilled workers will reach retirement age in the next ten years, and that an estimated 182,000 jobs will be needed in the sector over the next five years.

Growing the national workforce has to be a priority for the government. The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model (PDF 6.1 MB) commissioned by the Construction Leadership Council, acknowledges the ageing workforce, and additionally highlights a combination of low levels of new entrants (linked to industry image) and an overlay of deep and recurring recessions which induce accelerated shrinkage. The review emphasises the need for a different skill set than that of traditional approaches, for example in data, often referred to as today’s fourth utility.

Apprenticeship scheme results have been mixed, however. Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) reported that while 167,000 young people started training courses for jobs in the construction industry in 2014/15, in that same year only 18,000 secured an apprenticeship in the building trades. Drop-out rates for apprenticeships were close to 50 per cent. These issues clearly need addressing.

The government hopes that more investment will help, and changes to apprenticeship funding are scheduled for May 2017. 

The government hopes that more investment will help, and changes to apprenticeship funding are scheduled for May 2017. The apprenticeship levy requires UK employers with an annual pay bill over £3 million to contribute to apprenticeships investment via the tax system.

A company can use its individual levy to fund apprenticeship training and end point assessment, via an approved training provider and assessment organisation. Critics, including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), say the levy scheme needs more time before launching, the quality of apprenticeship schemes needs more attention, and there should be more flexibility in how firms can spend the levy.

Apprenticeships are back on the agenda for the professions too. Traditional entry routes have been evolving in recent years with high-level apprenticeship schemes becoming an alternative option to university routes for the construction professions. Escalating university fees and shrinking student finance have contributed to the attractiveness of apprenticeship routes into the professions, but, as with the trades, government, employers and schools could do more to promote the value of the vocational route.

Traditional entry routes have been evolving in recent years with high-level apprenticeship schemes becoming an alternative option to university routes for the construction professions.

In our own organisation, we are mindful of the need to widen access and training routes to include apprenticeship potential. Our apprenticeship scheme successfully recruited 12 Level 6 (equivalent to bachelor degree) apprentices for 2016 and 15 for 2017. This helps us create a pipeline of young talent to fill our graduate and assistant roles – especially important in the current climate, where we are seeing falling numbers of quantity surveying and building surveying degree-qualified applicants.

Proactive relationships with schools, local careers services and universities have been at the heart of our success in attracting talented and motivated young people. We offer a range of training opportunities, recruiting our apprentices alongside a larger graduate and post-graduate cohort. If you are interested in finding out more about any of these opportunities, either for yourself or for your students, please visit our career page.

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