Scale of job losses emerges as service is launched to match young people with placements

More than 3,500 construction apprentices have lost their jobs in the past six months, despite the government’s drive to increase their numbers.

Geoff Lister, chairman of the Cross Industry Construction Apprenticeship Task Force (CCATF) said 3,604 apprentices had been laid off by firms reeling from the continuing impact of the credit crunch.

Lister: Use apprentices on public jobs
Lister: Use apprentices on public jobs

The losses have emerged as the government prepares to set up a National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) to offer a UCAS-style clearing house for young people looking for apprenticeship places and to oversee the future of the training method.

Lister said the losses, most of which had occurred in the housebuilding sector, meant the government’s target of doubling the number of construction apprentices to 14,000 by 2012 was “out of the window”.

He said only 700 of the displaced apprentices had been found new work, and called on the government to force major contractors to use apprentices on public contracts.

He said: “Out of 80 major contractors still busy doing government infrastructure programmes, less than a dozen have apprentices. It’s scandalous.”

Traditionally, apprentices have been safe from being laid off until their training is completed. However, in the past 20 years changes to the structure of apprenticeships mean they can be made redundant before completing their training.

The NAS will be launched next month by the government. Helen France, its director of apprenticeships, said last week at the National Construction Trainings summit in Bradford that the NAS aimed to increase the number of apprentices to 400,000 a year within a decade.

She said the organisation wanted to work closely with ConstructionSkills to find alternatives for those made redundant. However, she warned the new apprenticeship strategy “wasn’t the saviour to what’s happening in the downturn”, pointing out that it was launched in response to the Leitch review of skills, published in 2006.

Less than 10% of construction firms take on apprentices. The Federation of Master Builders estimates that small and medium-sized builders provide 65% of training.