It’s been a concern for a while that the construction industry doesn’t have enough skilled workers. City & Guilds found that 87% of employers were already finding it difficult to recruit the necessary number of skilled workers last year and, Construction News reported that official figures show 12.6% of UK construction workers come from overseas, with 5.7% originating from the EU. Staggeringly, this rises to six in 10 in London, with 30% of British-born construction workers currently over 50 years old. This means that businesses are likely to feel the pinch of those departing in the coming years through retirement when Brexit comes into play.
However, it’s believed by some experts that apprenticeships are crucial. They could be more important than ever before following Brexit and an influx of publicity which circulated around National Apprenticeship Week in March seems to have encouraged employers to think about the future of their workforces — could it be that apprentices will fill the employee shortage?
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The top five sectors for apprenticeship starts are Engineering, Manufacturing, Construction, Planning and the Built Environment. In the academic year of 2016/2017, 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.
Discussing the report, Redrow’s Group HR Director, Karen Jones, said: “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.”
Due to the introduction of the apprenticeship levy last year, it’s expected that success for apprenticeships will continue as the levy brings with it a new way of funding apprenticeship programmes. While 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.
Apprenticeships are delivering the goods, according to UK Construction Media. A massive 86% of employers say that apprenticeships are helping them develop skills relevant to their organisation, and 78% believe they help improve productivity.
Furthermore, Develop Training’s CEO, Chris Wood, believes that apprenticeship programmes are indeed working, saying: “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.”
He added: “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.”
In terms of what the future holds, apprenticeships could be crucial to successfully fulfilling the demand in the construction industry. With Downing Street committing itself to creating three million new apprenticeships by 2020, we could see the construction industry receiving a large chunk of those programmes. This will provide 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.