Sue Husband, Director, National Apprenticeship Service
Apprenticeships are at the heart of the Government’s drive to equip people of all ages with the skills that employers need. They provide the opportunity, and the means, to help address the skills shortages reported by many industries. This is especially true in construction, where apprenticeships play a vital role in helping businesses grow and prosper. At a time when major national infrastructure projects are taking place and with a growing demand for skilled labour, apprenticeships can help construction firms become future fit by upskilling existing workers and attracting new talent to the industry.
Opportunities for employers
There has never been a better time to take on an apprentice. Businesses can grow their own talent and develop motivated, skilled and qualified staff in a cost-effective way in line with their workforce needs. Now, employer-led apprenticeship reforms are making apprenticeships even more valuable to employers by putting those employers in control of the development of apprenticeships. Employers can choose the skills, training organisation, apprenticeships – and how those apprenticeships are delivered – to ensure they meet their organisational needs.
Apprentices bring enthusiasm, energy and fresh ideas to any organisation, contributing to its development and success. As well as encouraging a more diverse range of people into construction from a young age, apprenticeships also encourage skilled workers to progress their careers in the industry too. Degree and Higher Apprenticeships in particular mean businesses can train more of their employees in the high-level skills that are critical for business growth, while offering ambitious school leavers or experienced professionals looking to upskill the opportunity to learn at university, to degree level.
Meeting business needs
Many construction employers have already made apprenticeships a vital part of their strategic plans to recruit the skills they need in the future. JCB has recently invested £7.5m in its largest ever intake of new apprentices, including higher apprentices that will go on to study at degree level. Firms including Balfour Beatty and Laing O’Rourke now offer degree apprenticeship in disciplines from construction to project management to engineering. And last summer the first ever quantity surveyor degree apprentices graduated from Liverpool John Moores University – an important milestone.
But there is of course lots more work to do to ensure that apprenticeships work for the construction sector as a whole. We are working with employers across the industry to ensure that their needs are met, while helping them attract the right talent and boost the quality of candidates applying for apprenticeships. We’ve already launched a programme, “Amazing Apprenticeships” to help inform teachers and schools about the benefits of young people becoming apprentices and we will be working with key employers in construction to drive further awareness of the great vacancies on offer through waves of marketing under the “Get In Go Far” campaign.
Since the Apprenticeship Levy and other reforms were introduced last year there has been a period of significant change for employers and there will understandably be challenges for them as they adjust and respond. Throughout this time we must not lose sight of why we introduced our reforms in the first place – to put quality at the heart of this programme for apprentices, and putting control in the hands of employers. Feedback we have had shows employers are positive about the reforms and taking their time to plan high quality, well thought through apprenticeship provision that meets their specific needs.
Since May 2015 there have been more than 1.2 million individuals starting an apprenticeship, which will provide each of them with the opportunity to gain the skills they need to get on in life. This is a fantastic achievement but only the start as we want to make sure all construction employers have the skilled workforce they need.
National Apprenticeship Week 2018 takes place from 5 to 9 March. The theme is ‘Apprenticeships Work’ to showcase how apprenticeships work for individuals, employers, local communities and the wider economy.
Employers looking to find out more about taking on an apprentice should visit: hireanapprentice.campaign.gov.uk. People looking for more information and support on applying for an apprenticeship can visit: getingofar.gov.uk.