The continuing troubles of construction apprenticeship training are depressingly familiar.
The simple fact is that there are hundreds more young people who want apprenticeships than there are companies out there willing or able to provide them. And this is at a time when the industry is undertaking more work than it has ever known and consistently claiming that recruiting and keeping good people is its number one headache. Government statistics say that apprenticeships across all industries have fallen 12%. Whether you attribute it to the failures of the education system, the crumbling network of colleges or the hundreds of companies who opt for cheap agency labour instead of in-house training programmes, young people are getting a raw deal.
For construction, at the heart of this debate is training body the CITB. With the government saying it wants every young person who would like an apprenticeship to have one by 2013, the future of the industry’s levy payment to the CITB, the largest provider of construction work-based learning in England and Wales, is likely to creep up the agenda.
To the CITB’s credit, last year about 50,000 young people applied for places through its apprenticeships, and it has also established a specialist team to look at new ways of providing placements for them away from the traditional apprenticeship approach. For example, in partnership with the Major Contractors Group, the CITB’s new site-based training initiatives are under way and look to be a promising avenue to attract emerging talent to large sites.
But this is a highly fragmented industry, and other industry partners, such as consultants’ representative bodies, have a role to play too. The establishment of a single sector skills council, formed by the CITB in partnership with other trade bodies three years ago, has improved much in this regard. The partnership of these bodies, which works under the guise ConstructionSkills, has centralised the issues of how training should be co-ordinated and funded. However, the fact that, the CITB is also to rebrand itself with the name ConstructionSkills from the beginning of this month, will hardly improve the spirit of collaboration.
So, there will always be room for improvement, particularly while enthusiastic apprentices are still without placements. Whether the reality is that the nature of the construction industry, with its dynamic work environment operating to often ferocious time pressures, does not lend itself easily to apprenticeships is hard to say. With this in mind, dare I suggest that the current situation will never really improve without a wholesale cultural change?
Tom Broughton, executive editor