One in five young people to gain from skillled training by 2020

Several thousand new construction apprenticeships are to be created over the next three years, as the government increases its apprenticeships spending to £1bn.

The government announced the move today, in a bid to increase the number of young people involved in skilled trades.

Skills secretary John Denham said that the increase in funding to £1bn will mean that one in five young people will be able to learn a trade from a skilled employer by the end of the next decade.

The plan is boosted by the recent decision to bring forward capital spending to help the economy recover from the downturn.

In 2008 alone, government departments and their agencies will spend more than £7bn on construction projects such as schools, colleges, hospitals and roads.

Ministers are hoping to use the purchasing power to increase the number of apprentices.

The government previously announced that is intends to ditch unnecessary bureaucracy required on apprenticeships, such as demands to store paperwork for up to six years, numerous inspection visits and monthly reporting requirements.

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of union Ucatt, welcomed the announcement as “excellent news”.

“For nearly 30 years the industry has not been training sufficient numbers of construction apprentices,” he said. “There is a problem with both a skills gap and an aging workforce. The government's actions support Ucatt's findings that the voluntary approach to apprenticeships has failed; employers were simply not interested in training the workers of tomorrow. Now they will have to or they will not receive government contracts.”

Earlier this year, Ucatt published a report which found that employers had failed to increase the number of apprentices being trained, despite a decade of industry growth up to 2008.

Ucatt added that in recent years, over 45,000 young people had applied to ConstructionSkills – the largest provider of construction apprentices – but only 8,500 places had been available.

ConstructionSkills also welcomed the news, but warned this could be a tough challenge in today’s economic environment if incentives were not offered to firms to provide the training.

Mark Farrar, chief executive of ConstructionSkills, said: “We have to be aware that our industry is facing hard times. Existing apprenticeship targets are being affected by the need to replace redundant apprentices, so increasing the overall number of placements is a double challenge.

“We know from talking to our industry that employers of all sizes are doing what they can to survive, and we need to consider what additional incentives can be provided to SMEs and main contractors to deliver apprenticeship places. The government must also avoid retuning to lowest cost tenders during the recession as this will strongly discourage companies from making training requirements,” he added.