We must build on the momentum from National Apprenticeship Week and offer proper training and mentoring

Patrick Flaherty

Last week’s National Apprenticeship Week was certainly an opportunity to champion apprenticeships and the important contribution they can make to business and the wider economy. But if apprenticeships are to truly become a viable alternative to university, meaningful efforts to attract and develop apprentices must continue throughout the year.

All too often, companies view apprentices as cheap labour and do not train or mentor them properly. Yet key to successful apprenticeships is on-the-job training. This was highlighted in the findings of a recent Aecom survey of its apprentices, with 68 percent of respondents saying that based on their previous experiences and those of their peers in other companies, the main reason for failure is when employers view apprentices as cheap labour.

Good-quality apprenticeship programmes are not only beneficial for individuals, but also crucial for building a skilled future professional workforce

High-quality candidates will want to embark on a career with big prospects, so the quality of training will be an important factor for them when applying for an apprenticeship. Offering a long-term career path, including sponsorship for a part-time degree at a later date, is therefore key. Aecom employs over 300 apprentices in the UK and plans to hire 150 more in 2016. We have a member of our HR team dedicated to apprenticeships, who drives our training programmes and organises initiatives such as work shadowing. We realise that good-quality apprenticeship programmes are not only beneficial for individuals, but also crucial for building a skilled future professional workforce.

Given the ambitious pipeline of infrastructure projects in the UK, growing capacity should be a priority across the built environment sector. Schemes such as HS2 and Thames Tideway are going to require skills from similar areas of the supply chain, so addressing potential capacity gaps now will be essential for their successful delivery.

Government also appears committed to building capacity, with its new Apprenticeship Levy intended to increase both the quantity and quality of apprenticeships. It remains to be seen how this initiative will work in practice when it is introduced in April 2017, but further details of the scheme’s operational model are expected to be announced next month. Let’s hope next year’s National Apprenticeship Week is not overshadowed by the initiative’s imminent arrival. The focus must remain on encouraging more candidates to consider apprenticeships, and offering those that join a meaningful career path.

Patrick Flaherty, chief executive, UK & Ireland, Aecom