The next government must provide tangible support for employers, educational institutions and apprentices if construction is to play its full part in driving economic growth, says Nicola Hodkinson  

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The construction sector is one of the largest in the UK, contributing almost £90 billion to the UK economy and employing around 10% of the nation’s workforce. From healthcare facilities and educational institutions to housing and infrastructure projects, we all rely on the expertise of skilled construction professionals.

As we approach the general election, apprenticeships and skills development has become a prominent topic in political debates and party manifestos. With the Labour Party leading in the polls, it is important to examine whether their proposed reforms to apprenticeships will genuinely unlock the potential of sectors such as construction, which faces unique issues in attracting and retaining talent.

The industry undoubtedly faces a serious challenge – a skills shortage that hinders its ability to meet the growing demands of the built environment. The question is: can the government’s promises actually address this crisis?

Labour’s manifesto promises

The Labour Party’s manifesto has pledged to revamp the apprenticeship levy, transforming it into a flexible growth and skills levy. This aims to provide businesses with more control over the training they offer, allowing them to invest in the specific skills their workforce requires.


Nicola Hodkinson is owner and director of Seddon

The issue here is that this flexibility offers employers the opportunity to invest in training their current workforce, not in hiring and funding new apprentices to develop and learn. Labour also plans to introduce a law designed to cut immigration by compelling government departments to develop skills improvement plans in high-migration sectors, including construction.

While these policies demonstrate a commitment to tackling the skills shortage, they do not fully address the root cause of the problem.

The need for government-backed incentives

The government must recognise that, while the construction industry is desperately in need of new skills to plug the gap, the majority of the sector is made up of self-employed sole traders and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). For these businesses, accessing the funds, resources and time required to employ apprentices can be a significant challenge.

To truly make a difference, the government must provide tangible incentives and support for employers to take on apprentices.

The problem does not lie in a lack of desire from young people to join the industry. In fact, Seddon’s latest recruitment drive was oversubscribed by more than 7,000%, clearly demonstrating the eagerness of the next generation to pursue careers in construction.

The desire is there, but the real challenge lies in businesses having the tools, resources and funding to employ and provide the correct experience for apprentices.

Despite our commitment to apprenticeships, the demand for positions far exceeds available opportunities. We were pleased to take on 17 apprentices this year but this still meant that 1,136 quality applicants were turned away.

While education and training initiatives are essential, they alone cannot solve the skills crisis. We need the next government to provide targeted incentives to continue hiring and training apprentices through to graduation.

We need to break down apprenticeships into more flexible, modular qualifications that align with the specialised nature of today’s construction firms

Simply offering more education in a college setting is not the answer. Construction is a unique industry with specific needs that traditional classroom-based education often fails to address.

Such initiatives should address the challenges of our sector, which include the vast geographical spread of our sites – adding a major logistical barrier to learning. Another significant barrier is the mismatch between current apprenticeship standards and the reality of the modern construction industry.

Over the past few decades, our sector has become increasingly specialised, with subcontractors focusing on specific areas rather than offering a full range of services. However, apprenticeship standards still require a broad scope of learning that many companies struggle to provide.

We need to break down apprenticeships into more flexible, modular qualifications that align with the specialised nature of today’s construction firms. This approach would allow apprentices to become competent more quickly in specific areas, opening up more opportunities across the sector.

Couple this with the challenge of training apprentices on all the skills the curriculum requires, while operating in an industry that largely comprises specialist contractors, and you begin to see why taking on an apprentice is challenging for a small business owner.

A collaborative approach to training

While initiatives like skills bootcamps and vocational courses have their merits, they often fall short of providing comprehensive, hands-on training that reflects the realities of the industry. Many of these programmes fail to offer students practical insights into the work environment, leading to low retention rates and a mismatch between the skills acquired and those required on construction sites.

Bridging this gap requires a collaborative effort. The government, businesses, trade unions and educational institutions must work together to develop targeted solutions that meet the specific needs. Employment providers have the potential to create and deliver effective training and employment opportunities. But we need our government’s support.

Building a sustainable future for construction

The skills shortage continues to pose a significant challenge to the industry’s ability to meet the growing demands of the built environment. While Labour’s manifesto proposals, such as revamping the apprenticeship levy and establishing technical excellence colleges, are steps in the right direction, they alone are not sufficient to solve the problem.

We need better, tailored incentives, however they come, whether it is through grants, tax breaks or funded training periods. The government could offer financial support to cover a portion of an apprentice’s salary during their initial training period.

The ideas are all here within our industry but sadly the action is not yet being taken by the government to make them a reality

Tax breaks could be introduced to encourage businesses to invest in apprenticeship programmes, making it more financially viable for them to contribute to the development of the future workforce. The ideas are all here within our industry but sadly the action is not yet being taken by the government to make them a reality.

To truly unlock the potential of construction careers and build a sustainable workforce, the government must provide tangible support for employers, educational institutions  and apprentices alike. Only with decisive steps from the next administration can we ensure that the construction industry remains a driving force in our economy and society for generations to come.

Nicola Hodkinson is owner and director of Seddon.

Election focus 

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With the general election fast approaching, the UK is facing some serious problems.

Low growth, flatlining productivity, question marks over net zero funding and capability, skills shortages and a worsening housing crisis all amount to a daunting in-tray for the next government.

This election therefore comes with very high stakes for the built environment and the economy as a whole. Building’s coverage aims to help the industry understand the issues and amplify construction’s voice so that the parties hear it loud and clear.