In-depth training benefits everyone

5 March 2019 | By Rob Pell

Rob Pell, head of construction at Yorkshire-based Priestley Construction, calls for a revolution in skills training and apprenticeships.

I have worked in the industry for 40 years, so it goes without saying I’ve seen countless challenges – from endless housing shortages to the 2008 recession and now Brexit.

People are the key to meeting these head on. But the onus is on companies to put in the effort to attract talent, impart the necessary skills, and retain the people you’ve invested in.

“There’s a focus on fast-tracking young people through training to get them on site as soon as possible. This misses the point entirely.”

Rob Pell

The CIOB recently reported that 170,000 new recruits are needed by 2021. As a country, we rely heavily on the EU to plug the skills gap; but, with Brexit looming, if the sector doesn’t respond proactively, there’s a strong risk that the gap will widen significantly.

Our apprenticeship schemes need to be radically overhauled. There’s a focus on fast-tracking young people through training to get them on site as soon as possible. This misses the point entirely – we end up with a raft of young people who don’t have a broader awareness of how the industry operates day-to-day.

The government is beginning to address this, allocating £22m to more in-depth onsite construction training, but there needs to be a more concerted effort by all.

Passing on practical expertise is not enough – we need to show how sites operate, in terms of contracts and project management, for example. This opens up pathways to further career progression. In short, trainees need to be better empowered.

I recommend a two to three-year scheme, similar to degree education, with onsite training at a single company at its core. This will create continuity and attract higher calibre applicants – our future leaders.

Industry and government need to come together to develop major training programmes that offer young people the first rung of the ladder and show them the view from the top.


Why not copy the Nothern European (German) system. People who leave school are offered an apprenticeship for a profession. They learn practically at work while being supervised by a Master Craftsperson and go on day release to a Professional College where they learn the general practice and theory. After three or four years they pass theory and practical exams to qualify as a Fellow Craftsperson / Commercial (there is a national list of professions for which you can qualify; and I do not means Hamburger Sales person!. That is then your profession or BERUF. You are a baker, confectioner, clerk, bookkeeper, tv electrician, mechatroniker, sales person, insurance clerk, import/export clerk, plumbing/heating installer, carpenter, joiner, pharmacy assistant, physican assistant, dental assistant, nurse, hgv driver, and so on. What you are not is an ex-apprentice, whateve that might be. After becoming, say, a FELLOW ELECTRICIAN you often become a journeyman to learn the secrets of the trade. You can then qualify as a ELECTRICIAN TECHNIKER, another one to two years at Professional College, and later you can qualify as a MASTER CRAFTSMAN which you need if you want to set up your own business. No cowboy builders in Germany! No fridge engineers to replace fuses in your fridge? No so-called plumbers to mend a leaking tap! No so-called telecom engineer who plugs phones in! Instead you end up with a workforce where everbody is a highly skilled and qualified fellow of some trade or other. And then they build BMWs, Audi, Mercedes, Porsches and other world beating products. Or you follow the English path, and have a country full of semi-skilled workers supervised by ex-Army officer bosses/director who tell the little people to do things, whatever it is that the little people do, in a posh accent, but know absolutely nothing about anything. And eventually make a million by selling of "their" business to foreign competitors. And then people wonder why UK firms and non-competitive and low-productivity. It about training people for a vocation and a profession. Not cheap on-the-job push that button and pull that leaver, and we'll sack you immediately if trade slows down. No wonders nobody wants to work in manufacturers, when you can sit in an office, just doing what you get told, and probably get paid more for doing nothing useful.

james martin, 5 March 2019

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