The construction industry is currently at a critical junction. Already facing a skills shortage, the available labour force is predicted to decline by 20 to 25 per cent over the next 10 years due to an ageing population, writes Duncan Hughes-Phillips, CEO, Base Quantum. This, combined with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit casting doubt over the industry’s ability to recruit workers from the EU, has made it crucial for the construction industry to invest in recruiting and training the next generation of workers.
The Apprenticeship Levy, which came into force today, presents an incentive for the industry to double its efforts to increase recruitment into the sector. The Levy aims to create three million new apprenticeship starts by 2020, as well as improve the quality of courses available.
As funding will be available to a variety of sectors, there are concerns it will leave the construction industry competing for a limited number of potential apprentices. As such, the industry will need to show real enthusiasm for the uptake of the scheme in an effort to remain attractive to apprentice, which in turn, will make meaningful progress towards plugging the skills shortage.
There is also a question of the financial viability of the scheme for the construction industry. Companies with a payroll bill over £80,000 already contribute to the CITB Levy, meaning many firms will be required to contribute to two levies. This could an issue, and there is a lack of detail currently available for firms on how to claim government funding to pay for training which could deter smaller firms from claiming funds, particularly due to the administration costs associated with setting up and negotiating training programmes.
While the Apprenticeship Levy goes some way to focusing the industry on the skills issue, it is not the perfect solution. We must innovate, we can no longer rely on larger construction companies to train the entire workforce on behalf of the industry. As an SME, Base Quantum believes collaboration and partnership as a means of upskilling the labour force and reducing training costs for firms are an inevitable shift for the sector. SMEs are a powerful force in helping drive this shift due to their agility and responsiveness.
One way this is currently achieved is through tailored secondment programmes, integrating apprentices with more senior employees of the company. The proven benefits are multiple, not only for the junior employees, but for everyone. Trainees become completely immersed in the day-to-day operations of a team, and senior employees are able to pass on key skills directly. Apprentices gain a deeper understanding of what prospective clients want, and are equipped with expertise above and beyond what is expected of them, serving them and the industry well in the future.
Training opportunities must be seen as a commodity, and this should be reflected in the company ethos with a focus on training, developing and investing in staff and their futures. The industry needs to adopt this attitude if it is going to successfully attract apprentices through the Government Levy and make progress towards closing the skills gap.