Government holds emergency talks over apprentice crisis, 700 more layoffs in engineering sector, 1,103 construction firms face ‘critical problems’

The Government has held an emergency private summit with construction leaders to discuss how to slow the tide of apprentices losing their training places due to the recession, reports Building.

Senior civil servants met with industry heads including James Wates, chairman of the UK Contractors Group, Mark Farrar, chief executive of ConstructionSkills, and unions bosses to discuss how to retain apprentices, over 600 of whom have already lost their placements in the last six months.

One measure being considered is to make apprenticeships mandatory on all public sector construction projects, both those run by local authorities and central government departments, says the magazine.

The news comes a fortnight after Children, Schools and Families secretary Ed Balls announced plans to add 35,000 apprenticeships across the public and private sectors and a week after the government revealed a £500m jobs stimulus package.

The recession dealt another blow to the engineering sector last week as consulting engineers Buro Happold and Faber Maunsell said they would axe a total of 700 employees.

A source close to Faber Maunsell told Building that 16% of UK employees, about 500 people, faced redundancy, while salaries of senior staff at the firm are thought to have been frozen and bonuses reduced.

Buro Happold is laying off 10% of its 2,000-stong global workforce and many of these have already left its Bath head office. Last week, Arup said it would axe 400 UK staff.

Meanwhile, the number of construction firms facing ‘critical problems’ increased to 1,103 at the end of 2008 from 380 a year earlier, according to figures from business recovery specialist Begbies Traynor.

The company’s Q4 2008 Red Flag Alert statistics, reported in Construction News, reveal that the construction industry has been the second worst hit in the downturn, second only to the advertising sector.