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Has construction heeded the need for more apprentices?

There’s a well-known skills shortage within the UK
construction industry. The issue has been prevalent over the last few years,
with the apprenticeship scheme touted as a potential solution for sourcing
homegrown talent into the construction sector. But has the construction sector
made the most of the apprenticeship scheme in order the deal with the skills
shortage? Nifty Lift, suppliers of work platforms
investigate:

The gender gap in apprenticeships

While the government continues to create apprenticeships,
there have been concerns over the disproportionate number of males being
offered apprenticeship roles in better-paid industries compared to female
candidates. According to a report by the
Guardian, only 5 per cent of apprentices heading into the construction,
planning and the built environment were female, but 94 per cent of apprentices
starting in the child development and well-being sector were women.

Arguably then, women could simply be applying to more child
development roles than in construction. But if this is the case, is there an
issue a step prior to applying for an apprenticeship?

A lack of encouragement

Beyond encouraging more women to look into classically-male
associated roles such as construction work, it seems that schools could be
doing more to encourage more apprentices in general. The
Express and Star pointed out that many schools are falling foul of giving
more support to students who are looking towards academic paths rather than
apprenticeship routes. Many pupils noted that for those who expressed a desire
to seek an alternative route than university, they were often left to figure
out how to apply for apprenticeships on their own.

There is certainly scope not only to restructure the
outdated view of construction being a ‘male job’, but also for apprenticeships
as a whole being supported with useful information and guides at a school
level. Taking an apprenticeship should not be treated as the lesser of two
options, and instead, be held as valuable and as viable an option as
university.

Problems with the levy

When the UK government announced a plan to create 3 million
apprenticeship places by 2020,
a levy was introduced to fund this. The levy requires businesses in England
who have an annual pay bill over £3 million to pay 0.5 per cent for the levy.
Businesses who do not pay the levy receive 100 per cent of training costs
covered for apprenticeships offered to 16 to 18-year olds. For those aged over
19, 90 per cent of the costs are covered. Plus, for businesses with less than
50 employees who don’t pay the levy, there’s a £1,000 incentive scheme for
taking on a 16 to 18-year old apprentice.

However, according to Contractor UK, the levy hasn’t been
wholly successful. One report claimed that although levy-paying businesses had
put £1.39 billion into the levy in total, only
£108million had been drawn through to the apprenticeship scheme. Plus, the
number of new apprentices in the first quarter of the levy’s introduction was
actually lower overall — on top of this, more than 80 per cent of levy-paying
firms had
not taken on an apprentice.

The levy may be appealing for smaller businesses, but a
certain flexibility and overall review of the process is needed in order to
boost the number of apprentices getting places at the larger, levy-paying
firms.

The skills gap is, however, closing

There is some positive news in the world of apprenticeships
though. The problematic skill gap that has plagued the construction industry
is, slowly, closing.

With upskilling
and training now taking a priority, apprentices are finding that there are
more resources available to them once they find a placement. The levy may not
be producing the rapid result companies were hoping for, but it does seem to be
aiding in closing the skills gap — potentially, a review and amended levy could
push this further.

While there has been progress in regards to apprenticeships
in the construction sector, the issue is still very much an ongoing one.

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