It is easy to think, particularly during the downturn, that recruiting new staff members is costly and perhaps unnecessary. However, when times are tough, competition for contracts is even tougher and that’s where a well-trained extra pair of hands could make a real difference.
Apprentices don’t just make good business sense now, but can help employers remain competitive and be in the strongest position possible for when the upturn begins.
In April 2009, the Office of Government Commerce published new procurement guidelines for public sector construction projects, which stipulate that businesses which use apprentices can be prioritised for publicly-funded work. This means that the public sector can play a key role in specifying that some form of training commitment must be completed in order to win contracts, which could include the use of apprentices. So, apprentices can bring additional advantages in winning contracts.
Besides putting firms in good positions to win public sector contracts, apprentices can have immediate and low-cost benefits for businesses, and recruiting now means that they will be fully qualified in time for the predicted upturn in demand for construction services from 2011.
Frankly, there is no better time for employers to develop their workforce and for both training providers and the construction industry to commit to supporting young apprentices. Employers search high and low for well trained and experienced workers who have come through the traditional apprentice channels; they like the fact that apprentices have on-the-job practical knowledge as well as co-ordinated academic learning behind them.
Although companies recognise the benefits apprentices offer, we still need more companies to engage further with the apprenticeship programmes on offer; thousands more employers are needed to match the demand for apprenticeship places. There have been 6,845 applications from young people received so far in England yet only 1,880 employer vacancies offered. Therefore, without further employment opportunities, we risk losing our trainees’ valuable skills and talent to other sectors.
ConstructionSkills’ latest measures to preserve the industry’s existing apprentices, including the Apprenticeship Matching Service (AMS), which aims to match displaced apprentices with new employers so that that they are not lost from the industry, gives employers the chance to support trainees that have already begun their training and have a good understanding of the industry.
Many site managers I meet proudly explain how they started as apprentices and they are keen to pass on their skills to a new generation. Firms which are in a position to provide opportunities can certainly make a real difference to apprentices, who are keen to become a part of our growing industry.
Taking on an apprentice is just one of developing and strengthening workforces, which will certainly help with long-term business plans and growth, and that is why apprentices are essentially the best investment the industry can make. Apprentices are our future.
Max Hamps is the director of ConstructionSkills Apprenticeships, the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry.
For more information, visit www.cskills.org