Nearly three quarters of construction firms do not employ an apprentice and do not plan to do so in the next 18 months, survey finds

Nearly three quarters of construction firms do not employ an apprentice and do not plan to do so in the next 18 months, a new survey has found.

As part of National Apprenticeship Week 2012, training provider Pearson has released the findings of new research of UK employers into their use of apprentices, with the results highlighting continued resistance in the construction industry to investing in apprenticeships.

The survey found that 70% of construction employers do not employ any apprentices under the aged of 25 and 72% do not intend to hire an apprentice in the next eighteen months.

The survey also found that 28% of construction employers would not hire an apprentice even with all the support they needed.

Fiona McBride, chief executive of Pearson in Practice - the professional and technical training division of Pearson - urged construction employers to wake up to the benefits of taking on apprentices.

She said: “Apprenticeships are the gold standard for vocational learning, and could play an important role in strengthening our businesses and supporting economic growth.

“However, employers must be prepared to put aside any preconceived notions, and take the opportunity seriously. We are challenging firms to think again about apprenticeships, come on board and reap the rewards.”

“We are seeing a sea change in public opinion about the value of vocational learning, which is driving a new wave of talented, motivated young people into apprenticeship schemes. However, this opinion is not wholly echoed in the business arena, with too many employers still blind to the benefits apprentices bring to business.

“We are challenging employers to take a fresh look at the programmes on offer, which coupled with the financial support now available, makes for a compelling business case for apprenticeships.”

Developer and contractor Hill also called for more companies in the construction industry to offer apprenticeship schemes to help reduce unemployment and promote long term growth in the industry.

Andy Hill, chief executive of Hill, said: “These are difficult times in the construction market, but there is a wealth of resourceful young people who are willing to work and learn on the job, and they represent the future.

“Recently I have been impressed with the calibre of our apprentices and I enjoy giving these young people a chance. Once the apprentice reaches a certain skill level they become commercially valuable to their employer, benefiting everyone involved. As business owners we have a responsibility to our industry to grow and train our workforce, so I urge more companies to take up these schemes this year.”

Brian Berry, Federation of Master Builders (FMB) director of external affairs, said that, according to an FMB survey, the biggest barriers to hiring an apprentice, were “a lack of confidence in the economy and future workloads”.

He said: “The apprenticeship challenge in the construction sector is about growing the supply of skilled and qualified workers in line with the industry’s needs… It is employers who are at the heart of the apprenticeship system and it is extremely difficult to anticipate much growth in the number of construction apprenticeships without growth in the industry.”

Berry welcomed the government’s focus on boosting apprenticeships, including an incentive payment to small businesses, but said this excluded businesses who had previously taken on apprentices.

He said: “The government’s proposal for an incentive payment for small employers is welcome but the government is risking the success of this policy by excluding small businesses with previous experience of training apprentices.

“These businesses are no less discouraged by the cost of hiring an apprentice, especially at the current time when most small building firms are struggling to maintain workloads.

“What the government should be doing is introducing more flexibility into the Small Employer Incentive eligibility criteria so that small businesses with a history of employing apprentices are not excluded to the detriment of the young people the government says it wants to help.”