This week Construction News reported that apprentice completions were on the decline with only 50% of those undertaking an apprenticeship actually completing them in 2013/2014. What’s more this has dropped from 66% in 2012/2013. With 120k apprentices expected to be required over the next five years (so that’s 24k a year) the current 8,030 coming in a year is not going to meet that demand. Even if the 20% growth continues year on year, in year five there will still be a 33% short fall of required apprentices. How that translates into qualified and competent persons and who is going to train those apprentices is another matter for another day.
So, as always, we want to draw your attention away from the mad rush to get people into the industry and ask you to focus your attention on how to get them to stay. We ran the figures a number of ways and the only realistic way of achieving the targets required are by achieving a balance between retention and recruitment. This might sound obvious, but I would warn you that without that balance we actually risk making the situation worse by creating negative ambassadors for the sector.
So what might get in the way of apprentices staying in the industry?
- I’m a big fan of people going into schools and talking about the vast and brilliant careers available in the UK construction industry. What I’m a little more cautious of is the attempt that’s sometimes made to sell the industry without a blemish. The challenge this creates is of people entering a sector that looks very different to the dream they were promised, and there are enough cases in history that tell us just how well this approach pans out.
Solution – Give a “warts and all” view of the sector; the highs are high enough to counter the lows and at least people will be making informed decisions, and quite often that’s an appealing option.
2. Workplace Environment:
- I love the industry; it’s a great place to work, but it does ask a lot. In fact it asks an awful lot including long hours, working away from home and possibly dangerous conditions. We need to start asking now if we can improve the experience people have of the sector. Do we really need people to start work at 7 after driving for an hour only to finish at 6 and then drive for another hour? Do we have enough support for managers on managing people as opposed to tasks? Do we do enough to bring our organisations together, or do we divide it with competitive targets?
Solution – Tools like the Be Fair framework can help you unpick these challenges at the same pace as the rest of the sector keeping you ahead of the curve but in line with your clients’ thinking.
3. Client demands
- I strongly believe that clients are working hard to help raise the numbers of apprentices in the construction sector. However, I’m not sure that the way we have been working towards this over the past few years has been the best solution for long term change and growth. Requiring contractors (not always from the area) who are working on local projects to employ local apprentices when they will only be on the contract and in the area for a few months can misunderstand how construction works when the apprentice needs the security of two years for training.
Solution – We need a rethink; clients and contractors, alongside sub-contractors and communities, need to work together for realistic and long-term solutions within procurement requirements. The Shared Apprenticeships programmes are a great start.
- Our image as a sector is important if we want to be seen as a ‘career of choice’ and we need to bear in mind that the 50 % of apprentices we currently lose from the sector may go out and spread a less than positive message to a wider reach about their experiences presenting an ever increasing challenge to us improving our image. Improving our retention rate will reduction the dissatisfaction leakage and the subsequent damage-limitation we have to undertake that keeps preventing us from moving forwards.
Solution – The CITB’s Be Fair Framework has the potential to be the lynch-pin that can allow us to gain ground in improving our image by supporting companies to have fair employment and working practices in place and demonstrate that they offer extras, benefits and additional value. The new YouGov survey covered in Construction Manager and The Construction Index today has highlighted that these are increasingly more important to people in the industry than just the salaries now that salaries themselves have improved so significantly. Be Fair is a way to ensure our industry is an ‘industry of choice’, our employers are ‘employers of choice’ and we offer our people and our recruits ‘careers of choice’.