Perception is everything. The best apprenticeship system will never succeed if we cannot make young people and parents recognise the value of a technical or vocational route


Much has been made in the last several years of getting industry more engaged with education. Major government reports on technical education, adjustments to the rules around degree-awarding powers, changes to the apprenticeship system, and the drive to develop new T-Levels should be a positive sign for the construction industry.

A renewed recognition of the importance of the technical as complementary, rather than secondary, to the academic should be seen as emblematic of an approach to education and economic development for the future. But these steps forward have limited impact while employer uncertainty around qualifications remains and perceptions about a career in construction endure.

While I applaud the government’s initiatives around promoting technical education and the steps toward building information modelling adoption in the industry, there is much more to be done. Trailblazer apprenticeships have led to confusion and consternation with employers. In some cases, the funding bands have made apprenticeships unattractive or unachievable for employers and training providers.

In other cases, the seemingly endless changes to policy and direction has resulted in some new standards being stalled. We are currently faced with a confusing system where some areas are still following the SASE (specification of apprenticeship standards) frameworks, while others have transitioned to the Trailblazers. The apparent emphasis on degree apprenticeships is devaluing those areas where alternative, non-degree, qualifications have historically been valuable routes to an apprenticeship and a qualification. There is much that has worked well, for a long time. Let’s not lose those things as we move forward.

For 2019, I’d like to see the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) and the Department for Education (DfE) take a more coherent and streamlined approach to apprenticeships and qualifications; one that will make it easier to develop suitable standards and allow employers and training providers to engage in a system that is easily understood and administered.

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Perception is everything. The best apprenticeship system will never succeed if we cannot make young people and parents recognise the value of a technical or vocational route – be it via a qualification or an apprenticeship. It remains that case that a majority of parents would not encourage their children toward a vocational qualification. As a parent who has a child completing GCSEs, I’ve spent a good few evenings over the past several months visiting local schools to hear about their post-16 offer. I can attest to the fact that almost no-one in secondary education tells ‘success stories’ about students who have progressed to apprenticeships or employment. The university route is, apparently, the only route to be considered valuable and the only measure of success. If we are to develop a thriving technical education system, based on T-Levels, then we need to make a concerted effort to communicate the value of technical education.

Construction, more than many other technical areas, suffers from a lack of visibility for those occupations that are not directly associated with the trades. Young people and parents do not readily see the technicians and technologists, the surveyors and managers that are not wearing muddy boots or driving a lorry. And yet, the highly-skilled technical roles are those for which the industry is al-ready recognising a need, and the fact that this will continue to be the case. These are roles that require high levels of technical knowledge, digital skills and will drive the transformation of the industry. These are the roles that should appeal to a generation of ‘digital natives’ who have ambition and are interested in improving sustainability and driving innovation.

For the year ahead, I’d like to see education leaders, employers and government work together to promote a view of the industry that appeals to students and parents. This should include information to help schools’ careers advice and guidance teams to present the industry as a career of choice.

The construction industry is rapidly changing, and the skills that will be required will become ever more technical and diverse. There will always be demand for the trades, but the way that these are integrated into a more modern, technical, digitally-driven and sustainable industry will be driven both a new breed of construction professional. Now is the time to start promoting, valuing and educating people to help us make the change.

Geoffrey Makstutis is the subject lead for Construction with Pearson’s Higher Education Qualifications and the author of Design Process in Architecture: From Concept to Completion

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