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APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAMME LAUNCHED TO PRESERVE CONSTRUCTION TRAINEE NUMBERS

2,000 displaced apprentices renews future skills shortage risk

ConstructionSkills, the UK’s Sector Skills Council, unveils a host of planned measures today to help preserve the employment of the industry’s existing apprentices through the economic downturn, and to encourage firms to bring through the next generation of workers.

The first and largest of these measures is the expanded Apprenticeship Matching Service (AMS), which seeks to find new work placements for apprentices who cannot continue training with their original employer. The AMS was established with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) and the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) at the end of 2008, but is now entering its ‘phase two’, wider-scale operation.

It offers a broad range of support services to help businesses retain their apprentices through the downturn, including mentoring for apprentices, advice for employers about other business support, and help with paperwork. To ease the financial and administrative implications of training an apprentice and maximise opportunities for completion, ConstructionSkills has also introduced a number of sensible flexibilities in apprenticeship training models and is working with employers to explore available funding options to help support a displaced apprentice.

The AMS now has over 2,000 ‘at risk’ trainees on its books, and while ConstructionSkills’ designated team has already helped almost 600 of them to find new employment, the rising numbers have prompted calls for around 1,000 additional businesses to offer employment opportunities that mean apprentices can continue training.

Nigel Donohue, Apprenticeship Programme Manager for ConstructionSkills, said: “The severity of the economic downturn means that the construction industry faces many challenges this year, and continuing the development of the next generation of workers is at the forefront of these.

“Increasingly more apprentices are becoming ‘at risk’ of being laid off, and to stem this tide we need more employers, who have the capacity to offer training opportunities to these young people. If this doesn’t happen, then the UK’s construction sector risks seeing the continuation of skills shortages that have plagued the industry since the last recession, caused by laying off experienced workers and reducing the number of new recruits.”

Other initiatives being implemented within ConstructionSkills’ Apprenticeship Programme include ways of supporting employers in recruiting new apprentices. New training models will be available to businesses of all sizes in order to streamline the process of recruiting an apprentice, and to make it more financially viable. These training models include:

· Group Training Association: launched predominantly for small and medium sized enterprises, GTAs allow a collection of employers or clients to act as one organisation and share the responsibilities of training an apprentice. This model could be applied to existing training groups, federations and in partnership with local authorities.

· Host Employer model: a scheme where major contractors (usually medium and large companies) act as the ‘host employer’ and take on a number of apprentices, then secure work placements for them within their supply chain.

To ensure continued demand from construction clients for apprentices, ConstructionSkills is also working closely with public sector bodies so that they invoke the policy – granted by the Government in 2008’s Pre Budget Review and included in new Office of Government Commerce (OGC) procurement guidelines – which stipulates that firms who use apprentices can be prioritised for publicly funded projects.

Joe Dixon, Director of JD Joinery & Building, a Newcastle-based business which made use of the Apprenticeship Matching Service by helping a 19-year-old apprentice complete his training, said: “I’m so pleased to be able to accommodate apprentices in spite of the downturn. They should all be given a chance to start out on the right foot when they enter the professional world, and I’m proud of the training I can offer them.”

Paul Mitchell, the apprentice at risk recruited by JD Joinery & Building, added: “I was made redundant last August when I was coming to the end of my NVQ Level 2 in Bricklaying. At the time I was worried I might not be able to go on to do my NVQ Level 3, but in October I got a call from ConstructionSkills, asking if I could see Joe at JD Joinery for an interview. I was so relieved when he offered me a job. The company has a great atmosphere and I’m really grateful that I’ve been able to continue working in construction.”

Nigel Donohue concluded: “Apprentices that come through the AMS are often close to the end of their training and may only have a short amount of ‘learning time’ remaining, so require only limited financial investment from employers.

“In many ways, apprentices are the lifeblood of the construction industry. ConstructionSkills is committed to maintaining appropriate training levels in the construction sector to retain the skills we need now, avoid future shortages and invest in the skills the industry will need in the future.”

Email: David.Pidgeon@cskills.org


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