I’m excited at how the future of UK construction could be transformed if enough firms tap into the Government’s new apprenticeship levy fund to close some of the serious skills gaps facing our sector. Construction is full of people who like to get things done – we’re doers, so let’s do what’s needed on apprenticeships. The apprenticeship levy will raise almost £3 billion a year to fund apprenticeships from 2017. Set at 0.5% of an employer’s payroll, it will apply to companies with annual wage bills over £3 million. It will raise serious money and we need construction employers to tap into this to help overcome the skills gaps that construction has been struggling with for years.
The impacts these shortages are having can be seen in the media reports of plumbers on up to £100,000 a year and bricklayers making £1,000 a week – putting up construction costs and, when skilled workers can’t be found, affecting projects. With an ageing workforce on the UK’s construction sites, this isn’t a problem that’s going away. Yet, as an industry, we’ve not been doing enough to train people to fill these gaps. From 2010 to 2015, where almost every other broad sector saw an increase in apprenticeship starts (and often a big one), construction, planning and the built environment saw a drop.
How could the apprenticeship levy change things?
It will remove the investment barrier from apprenticeships. Previously, when asked why they’ve not done more on apprenticeships, construction firms have often answered: “Why invest in training an apprentice, when they will be snapped up by one of our competitors as soon as we’ve built up their skills?”When the new apprenticeship levy starts, big firms will have to pay into a pot of funding, which, whilst the details are still to be fine-tuned, it looks like all employers will then be able to draw on for recognised apprenticeships.
From CR to HR
Another positive shift emerging in the sector is apprenticeships moving from being driven by corporate responsibility as the ‘right thing to do’, to a commercial imperative driven by human resources, a ‘must do’ for productivity. Construction firms are increasingly coming to us saying they can’t find enough workers with specific skills, such as ground-workers, and asking us how they can fix this HR issue through apprenticeships.
Leadership is also an important part of the puzzle. British Land is one of the players taking a strong stance on skills. They’re asking suppliers to ensure 3% of their UK workforce is made up of apprentices by 2020. They’re not being prescriptive about how their suppliers do this, but they’re saying that it is something that really matters for their business; plus, they’re providing a platform for discussion, offering support and sharing best practice. We’re working with British Land on a number of sites and what’s been fantastic, now they’ve got the platform, is how people are coming to us with great ideas and initiatives. I recently spoke at a British Land breakfast briefing on skills and opportunity. Download my presentation here.
What other challenges does construction need to get to grips with to address its skills gaps?
And what else would I like to see?
A final thought …
Here at K10, we’ve supported 700 individuals into apprenticeships within construction since we started. Each with their own story – people who just wanted someone to give them an opportunity, ex-offenders who’ve turned their lives around and lone parents excited about working in the sector. We now have people who began their apprenticeship back in 2010, training up their own apprentices.
We’re looking forward to the day an apprentice we’ve supported contacts us, when they have their own company, requesting apprentices. Working in partnership with firms like British Land, we can help create a new generation of leaders in the sector who recognise the benefits of apprenticeships to the individual and business alike.
Read our specific response to the upcoming Apprenticeship levy here.