Over 900 construction firms will be affected as charge is rolled out from today

Industy leaders have raised concerns about the government’s all-sector apprenticeship levy, as the charge comes into force.

Over 900 construction firms are to be charged the levy, which is due to be rolled out from today and which will help fund the government’s target of creating 3 million apprenticeships by 2020.

But industry figures warned questions remained unanswered about the policy, after an influential committee of MPs warned ministers of the danger of pursuing “quantity over quality”.

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) argued the 3 million target would be “extremely challenging” and called for ministers to “consult with the construction industry as a matter of urgency, to ensure that the levy is implemented in such a way that allows our sector to invest in skills through different qualifications and training methods applicable to their specific needs”.

CECA’s director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said the body was “generally supportive” of the government’s training agenda, but warned it was “seriously concerned about the potentially negative impact the levy would have on the quality of apprenticeships, existing apprenticeship programmes, and wider skills development”.

Meanwhile, Chris Jones, director of learning and development at contractor Bam, said that while he approved of the apprenticeship drive, he was concerned it may not fit all employers: “The amount of work available to justify taking on an apprentice might be an issue for some firms, while smaller companies might underestimate what’s involved.”

But he welcomed “a focus on bringing more young people, more home-grown talent in the wake of Brexit into the sector and making what will be an employer-led project more relevant to the industry”.

The apprenticeship levy roll-out comes as construction employers prepare to vote on the future of the sector’s own levy-funded training body, the CITB, later this year.

The CITB unveiled plans to cut its levy by almost a third at the start of the year, as part of plans to win round large firms angered by the prospect of having to “double-pay”.

Last Friday the Commons’ education, skills and economy subcommittee welcomed the government’s efforts to improve the “prestige of apprenticeships”, but said ministers “must ensure apprenticeships are not seen to be the solution to every skills problem”.

The public sector should employ more apprentices, its report added, “but a blanket target risks incentivising quantity over quality and the rebadging of existing training programmes”. MPs recommended the government “keep the public sector target under review and enable increased participation in areas of the public sector with clear skills shortages”.