Build March Issue

Build Magazine 54 ith an ever-present skills gap and an ageing workforce, the construction industry has welcomed the Government’s recent comprehensive pledge to create three million apprenticeships by 2020 – although leveraging this new opportunity will be no walk in the park. David Butterfield, Head of Learning and Development for Aggregate Industries, a leading manufacturer and supplier of construction and infrastructure materials and an advocate of employee education, explores how the new pledge will affect the construction industry and what employers can do to encourage uptake of apprenticeships across all construction disciplines. It has long been accepted that apprenticeships are key to addressing the construction industry’s skills gap. But after a sharp post-recession decline in relevant sector apprenticeships, and with an ageing population of skilled workers, the industry has had to play catch-up to prevent the void from widening. The Government’s latest research reveals that seven out of ten employers find apprentices useful to their business – an unsurprising figure given that apprentices have also been reported as having a direct positive influence on a company’s profit margins. For reasons just like these, the Asphalt and wider aggregates sector, like many industries in the UK, is already a convert when it comes to appreciating the benefits of recruiting and nurturing apprentices. Three million apprentices by 2020 The new Conservative Government’s recent commitment to delivering three million apprenticeships by 2020 has been hailed a positive step towards establishing the UK as the fastest growing economy in the G7. Not only is this figure an increase on the 2.2 million apprenticeships secured throughout the previous parliament, but the commitment overall is supported by engaging research, robust methods of delivery and even a watertight change to British law. Before we explore what the pledge means for the construction industry in particular, let us summarise the commitment by looking at a few key points of interest. Changes to law The Government has ‘enshrined’ its commitment in law, by formalising and protecting the term ‘apprenticeship’ and giving it the same legal treatment as a degree. This will strengthen the reputation of an apprenticeship qualification, and allow the Skills Minister to take legal action, through the newly formed Enterprise Bill, against any organisation using the term to promote low quality training courses. Public sector targets and the Apprenticeship Levy To deliver its ambitious target of three million new training opportunities, the Government will set targets for all public sector bodies, as well as introduce a nationwide ‘Apprenticeship Levy’. The new levy, a cross- sector initiative which was announced during the Queen’s speech in May, will set out a legal requirement for all large companies to play their part in achieving the 2020 target by investing in training – essentially levelling the playing field for apprentices and employers. The levy will no doubt go some way in addressing the investment decline in training throughout the UK over the last 20 years, but will most likely give rise to difficulties in a number of sectors where similar, well-established initiatives are already in place. What the 2020 apprenticeship commitment means for the construction sector To understand what this means for the construction sector in particular, it is important to understand where our industry sits in the grand scheme of things – the economy, our Closing the Skill Gap Can the construction industry leverage the Government’s 2020 apprenticeship pledge? W