Union says strong action is the only way to tackle the construction skills shortage

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of construction union Ucatt, has welcomed as “excellent news” the government's announcement yesterday to strengthen its support for apprenticeships, with a funding increase of £1bn.

“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 in the industry.

“The government's actions support Ucatt's research 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 showing that employers had failed to increase the number of apprentices being trained, despite a decade of industry growth up to 2008.

Alan Ritchie
Ritchie: "There is a problem with both a skills gap and an aging workforce in the industry"

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

ConstructionSkills also welcomed the news, but warned that this could be a tough challenge in today's economic environment if incentives are 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 impacted due to 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. Government must also avoid returning to lowest-cost tenders during the recession as this will strongly discourage companies from making training requirements,” he added.