Gillian Econopouly, head of policy and research at CITB believes more still needs to be done to address the skills shortage
CITB’s latest construction industry forecast predicts annual growth of 2.9% and the creation of more than 200,000 new jobs over the next five years. With this ‘big construction comeback’ across the UK, it’s hardly surprising that attracting returners and new recruits into the workforce has become a priority for employers and Government alike.
During the downturn, some 400,000 skilled people left the construction industry. Although some will have retired or moved permanently to another sector, we estimate that up to 100,000 could be encouraged to return. But it won’t be easy. Although our research shows the sector is on the path to sustainable growth, it will take a great deal of effort to demonstrate the good prospects for long-term, successful careers in the industry.
That’s why in the run-up to the General Election, we are calling on all political parties to pledge their support to delivering the National Infrastructure Plan. If the pipeline of new projects is guaranteed, it will offer employers the certainty to invest in training, and at the same time encourage skilled construction workers to return.
But however successful a programme of re-recruitment might be, it will only provide a short term fix. For the longer term, we must develop a consistent pipeline of new talent and ensure that we retain these people throughout their careers. And a key part of that is providing quality apprenticeships for quality apprentices.
Recognising this, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee recently published a report on 16-18 education which endorsed the Government’s commitment to longer and better quality apprenticeships. The Committee also recommended targeted support to help smaller businesses take on apprentices.
For its part, the Government has confirmed its commitment to give construction employers a bigger say in the funding and shaping of apprenticeships. We welcome this commitment. Bringing employers fully into the decision-making process should improve the design, quality and relevance of construction apprenticeships across the board.
The challenge now is to ensure that construction firms can get involved in the way that suits them best. In a sector mainly comprised of SMEs, it can be difficult to engage meaningfully, as many firms do not have the staff or time to get deeply involved. Instead, they may just prefer some practical help with taking on an apprentice.
The solution put forward by CITB to Government is to enable employers to opt for a managed service facilitated by a third party. Under this approach, CITB and other training providers can provide SMEs with the administrative support they need. In addition, CITB can provide grants to employers’ worth up to £10,250 to take on an apprentice.
Things are moving in the right direction but there’s much more to be done before construction apprenticeships, and those in other sectors, become a viable option for all young people.
For this reason, CITB has joined with Demos, one of the UK’s leading think tanks, to set up an independent Commission on Apprenticeships. The Commission is co-chaired by Conservative MP, Robert Halfon, and Labour Peer, Lord Glasman, and is tasked with developing a strategy to increase the quality and quantity of apprenticeships, particularly in construction.
Launched last autumn at the Government’s Construction Summit, the group brings together policy experts, training providers and business leaders to examine: • How to increase the appetite for apprenticeships among young people and employers and; • How best to ensure world class standards for British apprenticeships.
The Commission’s final report will be launched at CITB’s inaugural Training Summit on 10th March in London, being held in partnership with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Construction Leadership Council.
The summit will bring the industry together to discuss how to widen training opportunities for young people and build the skilled workforce that local economies need.
In addition to launching the Apprenticeship Commission report, the summit will give delegates the chance to hear from key Government figures, and to share experiences and practical tips with other construction businesses facing the same challenges. Practical workshop forums and business-focussed seminars will complement the day’s key speeches, with opportunities to put forward views and ask questions of the Minister and industry leaders.