The UK’s building and construction industry is not facing a new skills shortage – it has been around for years, says Richard Plummer

Between now and 2011 it is estimated that more than 80 000 new workers will be required for the UK’s building industry.

In the current economic climate, developers, builders and construction companies will want to reduce costs while maintaining high standards. But reducing costs should not mean sacrificing training and recruitment.

For companies like Inviron, it’s important to invest in people. Inviron’s ethos has always been to train, encourage, mentor and develop our people and to promote from within. Any modern, forward-thinking organisation should offer its people the opportunity to learn and progress.

The workforce is after all a company’s most important asset for success, which in turn is why it’s crucial to provide appropriate and ongoing training and apprenticeship programmes.

This training will result in companies boasting an improved skill base so they can offer clients a higher quality of service. This service plays an important part in delivering contracts on time and to budget, as well as winning further contracts.

Apprenticeships are a proven method for companies to develop people within the culture of their own organisation. And, with unemployment expected to exceed three million over the next two years, according to the British Chambers of Commerce, the government has pledged to help more people find work, or get back into work, through apprenticeship schemes.

During this financial year (2009/10), the government will invest £140m to create 35 000 new apprenticeships.

I support any incentive that creates increased apprenticeship opportunities within our industry. I have always believed that the demand has existed from both students wanting to join the industry and skilled operatives for current workloads.

The government’s pledge of £140m is a good starting point. But to ensure this scheme works, the funds must be channelled into the correct avenues. At present we do not have enough employers prepared or able to offer apprenticeship training, and also not enough suitable technical colleges offering the training courses at the required standard.

At present we do not have enough employers who are prepared or able to offer apprenticeship training and also not enough suitable technical colleges offering the training courses at the required standard

In my opinion the money would be best invested in providing apprenticeships for the 19-25 age group and, with the proposed current school leaving age being raised from 16 to 18 by 2015, this would help address the shortcomings under the current scheme where there will be no new 16-year-old student intake into the industry from 2013 to 2015.

Currently, Inviron has a total of 58 apprentices who are at various stages of training. Our apprentices attend college, either on day or block release, to learn construction theory and best practice, which leads to them attaining technical and key skills certificates.

Concurrently, apprentices are able to put their newly acquired skills into practice by working alongside and learning from qualified Inviron employees.

It seems odd then, that there is a skills shortage when so many young people are applying for apprenticeships. For example, in Suffolk alone there are on average 250 apprentice applications each year.

But one reason for the skills shortage is unquestionably the limited number of firms taking on apprentices. Inviron’s Eastern business is only able to offer a place to a small percentage of those applying. In addition, some companies may not want the financial investment required.

I believe that another contributory factor is the lack of information available to would-be apprentices about how to get into the industry. This issue can and should be addressed by schools, colleges, training providers and the industry working more closely together.

My view is that we need to ensure not just the quantity of potential applicants, we need also to attract the right quality, by ensuring young people have appropriate information about apprenticeships and the industry.

There is a serious misconception among young people about how to get into this industry, with many believing that if they perform poorly at school they can default to an apprenticeship. This is not the case. The minimum GCSE grades that we believe a student requires are Cs in Maths, English and Science, to allow them to cope.

Far from discouraging applicants, if this perception were dispelled, many more high- quality candidates would come forward.