Less than 10% of construction firms train apprentices and only eight of the 63 largest companies offer regular employment to an apprentice through ConstructionSkills.
Not my words, but those of Geoff Lister, president of the Federation of Master Builders, and he ought to know: he’s the chair of a taskforce launched on Monday to address this situation. Lister says firms should be ashamed of this record, as they should of the 10,000 young people on construction courses who are unable to complete their training for lack of a work placement. But the economic argument for apprenticeship is just as strong as the moral.
First, the industry obviously requires a steady intake of skilled staff. It’s going to be asked to build about 7,500 projects worth more than £1m over the next five years. Yet it can’t cope with the work it has now: Bovis Lend Lease has admitted to turning away work worth billions. So who will build the projects? Everyone agrees that the pre-trained eastern European migrants we’re currently relying have only bought us time.
Second, as we report this week (page 13), tender prices in London are the most expensive in the world, and will grow at 6-8% this year. Obviously there are more factors at work here than a shortage of labour – the abundant supply of skilled Polish migrants is probably what’s kept the market functioning. However, contractors should understand that clients won’t swallow rises on this scale in perpetuity. So taking on more of those 10,000 would, if nothing else, show good faith.
What other steps should the Lister taskforce recommend? Although it was only an initial meeting on Monday, it threw up some interesting points (page 15). The government could cut the red tape that makes it hard to employ 16-18 year olds. Colleges could work more closely with industry. Main contractors could favour firms that employ apprentices … and companies could part with some money. Despite the £2,250 grant from ConstructionSkills, training costs up to £12,000 per apprentice in the first year alone. Lister has made a strong start in assembling a wide range of trade bodies to sit on his taskforce, but this issue of money is looming large. Monday’s enthusiasm will need to be sustained if it is to deliver the ultimate prize of more places for young workers.
Battles were won, but the war continues
It has been nearly a year now since Building launched its Safer Skyline campaign to halt a spate of tower crane collapses. As we report on page 44, our message has got through. However, it does not mean that the job is done. Anyone who remembers our report on the memorial service for Michael Alexa on 9 February will know exactly why we’ve got to keep our attention focused on this matter into next year.
Stuart Macdonald, deputy editor