The recent announcement by the Skills Minister John Hayes that apprenticeship schemes are to be lengthened is welcome news for the British economy. It signals the end to what could be seen as a ‘conveyer belt’ approach to vocational training, where ‘any skills’ have taken precedent over the ‘right skills’. For too long, some industries have been damaging the apprenticeship brand by pumping out apprenticeships, focused primarily on volume and speed rather that the end product. In the midst of quota madness, quality, skill and the type of training that the industry needs to thrive risked being compromised.
The construction industry is an ageing sector, with a significant number due to retire in the next 10 years. The retirees will be highly skilled, highly experienced workers, and their replacements will have to be trained accordingly to fill their boots. Couple this with major changes on the horizon which will warrant a raft of new skills in the areas around nuclear build, green energies and Building Information Modelling. Thanks to Government investment there is also a number of major infrastructure projects in the pipeline such as High Speed 2 and Crossrail. To meet the skills demands that are coming a highly skilled future workforce is simply a must.
In the construction sector, apprenticeships are one of the most important entry points into a career in the sector. For years, the industry has relied heavily on this cohort of new blood coming through ready to pick up the gauntlet. However, despite their importance, we have recently seen an increase in the number of providers who have tried to fast track candidates, badging short-term duration courses as apprenticeships.
Short-term courses in their own right are a great way to up-skill and continue on the professional development path, but the problem arises when some try to shoe horn courses into shorter time frames than can really do them justice. This is potentially harmful to the apprentices that complete them, employers and the industry as a whole if they are not delivering the right skills for growth. Investment in apprenticeships is an investment in the future of the industry itself and it is self-defeating to support courses that are unfit for purpose, as it damages the industry’s ability to compete on a global scale in the long-term.
As a result, we need to ensure we are safeguarding the skills needs of the industry for when the market picks up. At CITB-ConstructionSkills, we are committed to continuing to raise standards for apprenticeships, and believe the training infrastructure should be largely shaped by employers to help produce high-quality results.
This is why we have rejected claims for qualifications for courses as short as 18 months, and for framework completions for level 2 apprentices achieved between 12 and 17 months. We don’t believe short apprenticeships will support the industry’s needs now or in the future.
What we will continue to support and provide, however, are robust and fit-for-purpose apprenticeships that really do deliver, and our level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships meet those standards. Most level 2 frameworks in construction are achieved between 18 and 30 months – with level 3 frameworks being awarded 12 months after the completion of a level 2 framework.
We will also make sure that flexible finance packages are available to help employers afford them. Last year alone, CITB-ConstructionSkills provided over £49m in apprenticeship grants to 10,000 employers, and helped more than 63,000 people to achieve vocational qualifications.
Apprenticeships are crucial to producing the construction workers of the future. The recent commitment from the Government will go some way toward ensuring the apprenticeship system works well for us all. We must always remember that it is the quality of our future workforce, not the quantity, that will drive growth.
Mark Farrar is chief executive of CITB-ConstructionSkills, the national training organisation for construction in the UK
For further information on CITB-ConstructionSkills Apprenticeships, visit http://www.cskills.org/apprenticeships/.