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UKCG plans new future for industry apprenticeships

18 March 2011

The UK Contractors Group is examining two new innovative routes for construction apprenticeships, aimed at making it easier for contractors to provide training opportunities as well as updating apprenticeships for the future. 

The UKCG's Apprenticeship Task Group has been set up in response to the government's call for  a higher-skilled workforce as a platform for economic growth, as set out in Vince Cable's skills strategy - “Skills for Sustainable Growth” - launched last November.

The Task Group is working against the backdrop of a dramatic decline in the number of construction apprentices.  In 2006-8, 17 500 apprentices were trained annually, which fell to 14 000 in 2009 and just 7000 in 2010. The annual drop out rate is estimated at 30%. 

The Group is chaired by Richard Bush, deputy managing director of Kier's construction division, who acknowledged the difficulties contractors often face in taking on apprentices, especially as a contractual requirement on public sector projects.

“On a job that takes 18 months you might only need a bricklaying apprentice for six months. There isn't always time to complete the apprenticeship.” As a result, the training responsibility is often split between the contractor and sub-contractors in its supply chain, sometimes under complex arrangements. 

The group is developing the idea of Modern Construction Apprenticeships, a three year training in construction techniques, management skills, supervising team and decision-making, seen as an apprenticeship for the construction managers of the future.

Bush told CM: “Everyone knows there's a gap at the moment – you either train to work on the tools, or go through college and university to become a senior manager of the future. As a group, we will try to develop further recommendations to fill this gap.

“You don't need to have a trowel or a hammer in your hand to do a construction apprenticeship – it's moving towards a management apprenticeship. It's what contractors do every day on site, so it would be easier for them to offer.”

Kier itself is already committed to the Modern Apprenticeships concept, and is looking for 16-17 year old candidates to join the company in autumn 2011. Bush said that the idea has already won support from UKCG members Kier, Skanska, Willmott Dixon and Wates.

The Task Group is also looking at the Australian model of Apprenticeship Training Associations, which bring together a group of construction employers. Apprentices are employed by the ATA, and partner contractors then pay a fee to “hire” an apprentice, for example for the six-month duration of a project. At the end of the contract, the apprentice returns to the ATA.

ATAs do already exist on a small scale in the UK. Around 200 apprentices who were displaced following the 2007/8 credit crunch have been trained in two pilot projects in the north-west, which were set up by CITB-ConstructionSkills.  

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