The news that the industry has cut the number of apprenticeships by over a quarter this year should make every one of us hang our heads in shame (news, page 13).
When the industry apparently needs 87,600 recruits each year for the next four years to meet demand, to offer just 7,000 places is, frankly, pathetic.
ConstructionSkills can be rightly proud that more than 50,000 people are expected to apply for apprenticeships this year – up from 48,000 last year. However, Sir Michael Latham and his team are entitled to feel aggrieved that construction companies haven’t responded to this flurry of interest by providing more jobs.
Companies put up the argument that they often don’t receive the quality of candidates they would like for the posts, or that it is pointless to invest time and money in training new recruits when they are likely to leave as soon as the first headhunter comes along waving a fat chequebook.
These are valid criticisms, but only to a point. Often a candidate will only be as good as the training they are given. In some cases it may be that an individual is simply not cut out for our industry. Fine, but surely the successes will outweigh the failures? As far as the gripe about corporate poaching is concerned, this will always be with us. Perhaps, though, if people were backed by their company with a strong and continuous training programme, they might be more inclined to return that trust when faced with a big-money offer to go elsewhere. Also, the more new recruits, the more skilled workers there will be and the less those headhunters will need to prowl.
As Latham writes on page 26, this time next year the industry will have its very own construction and built environment diploma, with 4,000 pupils expected to enroll. This comes as applications for full-time construction courses at universities across the UK are up 18% on this time last year and almost half of the 1,000 pupils who took the pilot construction GCSE this year achieved a C-grade or above. We can only hope that this revived interest in our industry continues. However, if those looking for apprenticeships see there is less than a one in eight chance of actually getting one, they may well look elsewhere. Wouldn’t you?
ConstructionSkills is urging employers to step forward in the next few weeks to attempt to make up the shortfall in apprenticeships. If we want to have a leg to stand on when pleading a shortage of new recruits as a restriction on capacity, we should really take a good look at ourselves now. The industry is able to rely on labour from overseas for the time being, but how long will it be before the economies of Poland and Romania (page 50) take off and can afford to pay for their construction expertise to return from these shores?
If you do one thing this weekend, have a good think about where an apprentice might fit in your team, and then call ConstructionSkills.
Stuart Macdonald, deputy editor