Why are construction apprenticeships so important?
Rosalind Thorpe on why apprenticeships are so important in construction and what the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) does on the issue.
Apprenticeships are synonymous with the construction industry. For many CIOB members an apprenticeship will have been the starting point to their professional career and yet for many years, and for many reasons, they have fallen out of vogue. In part due to a series of different government approaches that have favoured academic routes.
But, according to recent figures, we are starting to see an upturn in the numbers of apprenticeship starts which is great news. However, the important figure to bear in mind though is not starts but completions, and there is much work to do to improve those. There is a compelling need to simplify the current apprenticeship structures in England which are prescribed by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. The plethora of overlapping assessments are a known barrier to completion rates.
Why are apprenticeships so important? Well, to state the obvious they provide an alternative route into skilled employment with none of the associated debt that higher education provision can bring, as well as providing alternative career pathways into exciting industries such as construction. Earning while learning certainly has its appeal.
There are other benefits too. For a start most employers who run apprenticeship schemes say that former apprentices are more employable than those with other qualifications. And of course, apprenticeships have been shown to boost business productivity too. Place an urgent need to grow the skills and resource pool for the industry and you can see why apprenticeships are so valuable to construction.
So, what does the CIOB do on apprenticeships? Well, we are strong advocates for apprenticeships but where we concern ourselves is in ensuring that apprenticeships are good quality for the person enrolling on them and that they meet the needs of the employers who run them. We work with various employers, other like-minded organisations, and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to help shape those standards.
Degree apprenticeships are an area we have been working for several years. These apprenticeships combine working with studying part of the time at a university. Apprentices are employed throughout the programme and a degree apprenticeship takes typically between 3 to 6 years to complete, depending on the learner’s starting point.
Recently we partnered with Local Authority Building Control and the University of Wolverhampton to launch a Degree Apprenticeship in Building Control. Coming soon will be degree apprenticeships in Design and Construction Management, Construction Site Management and Building Conservation.
Not all job roles in the construction and the broader built environment sector are available as apprenticeships, but the number is increasing all the time and we are working hard to ensure they are fit for purpose and act as a rewarding pathway to an exciting career in construction.
What we champion is quality learning and we have openly pushed and supported apprenticeships that reach degree and postgraduate level qualifications. We are also mindful that the construction industry often contracts and expands leaving apprentices at the mercy of their employer.
The industry has to accept that it needs to create confidence for apprentices so that they know the skills they are learning will help them succeed, progress and thrive and that there is a genuine commitment from their employer and education provider for that to happen.
Rosalind Thorpe is associate director – education and standards, CIOB