Apprenticeship Week marred by union claim that part-time training will ‘undermine government efforts’

A row broke out last week between a leading construction workers’ union and a skills body over proposals to amend the way apprenticeships are carried out.

In a paper that was seen by union Ucatt, ConstructionSkills proposes letting apprenticeships be served on a part-time basis to help more people into work. It suggested a “temporary change to the framework to allow a more flexible interpretation of the term ‘fully employed’”.

Ucatt believes that this would thwart government aims to create 7,000 construction apprenticeships by the end of the year, as it would allow companies to hire part-time apprentices to meet government targets.

Last Monday Alan Ritchie, the general secretary of Ucatt, described the proposals as “outrageous”, saying the skills body was acting as a “conduit for employers’ wishes”.

He said: “ConstructionSkills should be trying to enhance the government’s proposals, not undermining them.”

ConstructionSkills denied the allegation and said the idea had been discussed, but ruled out during a meeting on 13 February. Instead, it said it was considering proposing that only apprentices who lost their jobs and had less than three months of training left should complete them part time.

The skills body said Ritchie, who sits on the board of ConstructionSkills, had been invited to the meeting but had declined to come.

Ucatt denied this and said it was still unhappy with the revised proposals.

However, ConstructionSkills received support from other skills bodies for the move. Christine Townley, director of the Construction Youth Trust, said: “These are hard times for everyone and we applaud ConstructionSkills’ efforts.”