National Apprenticeship Week sees firms still slow to train next generation

    A leading provider
    to major construction and utilities firms, Develop Training Limited (DTL), says
    too few businesses are making a commitment to apprenticeships despite
    government initiatives to promote them.

    DTL, which has centres in
    Linlithgow near Edinburgh, Romford, York, Derby, Bolton, Swindon and Lisburn,
    Northern Ireland, highlighted the issue while giving its backing to National
    Apprenticeship Week 2019, which runs from 4 to 9 March.

    In the run up to the week,
    the government launched a new promotional campaign, Blaze A Trail, to convince
    more individuals, families and employers to embrace apprenticeships. Previous
    initiatives have included Trailblazer Apprenticeships in England and the
    controversial Apprenticeship Levy.

    Yet DTL points out that
    government statistics for the academic year 2017/18 showed a drop of almost a
    quarter in the number of apprenticeship starts.

    John Kerr, DTL’s Director
    of Training & Education, said: “It’s clear that businesses in the
    construction and utility sectors – in common with other industries – have not
    committed to apprenticeships as enthusiastically as the government hoped. The
    difference with some industries is that we face an enormous skills gap in
    construction and utilities, so it’s crucial that the sector responds, including
    embracing apprenticeships. The levy was intended to nudge them in the right
    direction but so far, if anything, it has had the opposite effect.”

    He highlighted comments
    from senior HR professionals at DTL’s Industry Skills Forums that the levy had
    caused confusion and even suspicion with some delegates labelling it a stealth
    tax. Others said the chance to recoup the levy was not enough incentive when
    set against the long-term commitment to run an apprenticeship programme.

    The training company, whose
    customers includes some of the biggest names in water, gas, electricity and
    construction, hopes that attitudes are changing.

    “We and our customers have
    no doubt that, managed well, apprenticeships do work,” said Mr Kerr.
    “Businesses have now had nearly two years to decide how to respond to the levy,
    and in April the funds that big firms have paid in will begin to be taken by
    the Treasury. That should refocus attention on the question of

    He said it wasn’t clear how
    uncertainty around Brexit, including the availability of foreign workers, and
    concerns about global economic slowdown would affect decisions about
    apprenticeships and other HR programmes.

    “There have been reports of
    a contraction in the construction sector because investors are delaying
    decisions, but that doesn’t mean the UK can afford to put its infrastructure on
    hold,” said Mr Kerr.

    He said the rise of offsite
    construction was an opportunity to develop apprenticeships in a factory
    environment, which is easier than on construction sites. The continuing housing
    shortage could also lead to incentives by this government or a future one to
    stimulate building through any potential recession.

    “Whatever happens to the
    economy, we need a new generation of skilled operatives to replace an ageing
    workforce,” said Mr Kerr. “If we delay making a commitment to apprenticeships
    for whatever reason, that would be a serious mistake. I hope that National
    Apprenticeship Week and the campaigns around it will help to generate momentum
    so that more businesses invest in what are highly cost-effective ways to
    deliver a loyal and skilled workforce. As approved providers under the levy, we
    are 100 per cent committed to do all we can to ensure that this happens and to
    help our customers to maximise their return on investment in people.”