Apprenticeships: two ideas to increase training capacity
Pathway to construction
The Pathway to Construction Scheme is designed to strengthen the weak links between FE colleges and construction companies, as well as helping SME employers that might be struggling with the costs of an apprentice.
A pilot scheme in Plymouth, set up in 2011 with support and £10,000 in funding from the FMB, has now been joined by three other schemes brokered by the FMB, CITB-ConstructionSkills and the Cross Industry Construction Apprenticeship Taskforce. The FMB is also involved in a Bristol scheme, while the NHBC is funding Milton Keynes and pension and insurance company B&CE is backing a scheme in Crawley.
Geoff Lister, chair of the CCATF, says: “If we’re asking ConstructionSkills and government for funding, we thought the industry should also do a bit themselves.”
At the end of the first year of a college diploma course, students are placed with local construction employers for 10 weeks. If the relationship works, the student is taken on as an apprentice with their first year at college counting towards the knowledge component of their apprentice training.
“It’s a try before you buy solution,” says Lister. “With good hand skills and basic health and safety training, the students are a better bet than a 16-year-old.”
As well as the normal college diploma curriculum, FE colleges in the scheme have to work with students on their employability — presenting themselves well, turning up on site punctually and having a good attitude.
The placement is viewed as work experience, with no legal requirement to pay the students beyond expenses. But funding from the sponsoring partner, split 50:50 between employer and student, means employers can offer around £60 a week.
One of the Plymouth employers is Mike Smith, who runs joinery and fit-out business Mainly Kitchens and has taken on four previous apprentices. “In normal years, the apprentice system works well, but in the middle of a recession, companies just don’t have the workload and resources to take apprentices on,” he comments.
Last summer, Smith took on 17-year-old Plymouth City College student Kieran Wheeler, and it’s proving a successful match. “He’s my fifth apprentice, and other than my son, Kieran’s definitely been the best, from having previous experience when he started — the others took longer to settle in. We’ve already seen our productivity increasing. It worked really well for us, and that little bit of funding softened the blow for a few weeks.”
Employers taking on students are eligible for CITB grant funding for the second year. However, Smith says the apprentices are not considered part of the normal CITB training group, so the colleges retain their funding for them.
Smith feels the scheme is a much-needed corrective to the inefficiencies of construction skills training. “The current system basically puts the colleges in competition with CITB, but this scheme joins everything up. It also opens up the idea of a traditional apprenticeship — you’re not going straight from school to site. They have that maturing time [in the first year at college] and learn to make decisions for themselves. With the right employer and the basics at the college, they can be productive quite quickly.”
The Shared Apprenticeship Scheme
One reason why the apprenticeship completion rate in 2010/11 was just 71% is the trend for local authorities to link construction procurement and planning agreements with apprentice training contracts. Whereas apprenticeships take
at least 18 months to complete, the contractors and sub-contractors delivering new schools, hospitals and commercial developments might only be on site for nine months, leaving locally-recruited apprentices high and dry.
But a CITB-ConstructionSkills Shared Apprenticeship Scheme (SAS), piloted in the north-west, lets several contractors share the same apprentice. It is now underway in Lancashire and Cumbria, Merseyside, Yorkshire and Humber, East of England and London.
Under the scheme, local authorities set up a not-for-profit company that employs the young apprentices, then contractors delivering local construction projects pay the SAS company for the apprentice’s labour over a six to nine-month placement.
At the end of a placement, the SAS finds the apprentice a new “host” company. On completion of the apprentice framework, it is hoped that they will have made a good impression on the contractors and be offered a full-time job. In the pilots, 94% were offered jobs.
CITBConstructionSkills account service manager Keith Watkins says these places will be “additional” to single-employer apprenticeships. “We don’t want the number to get too big, or to replace existing recruitment. We’re trying to lower the barriers for contractors,” he says.