Article – Are apprenticeships the key to the industry’s skill shortage?

Are apprenticeships the key to the industry’s skill shortage?

The beginning of February marked the celebration of National Apprentice Week, bringing together businesses and apprentices to showcase the positive impact that apprenticeships make to both individuals and the wider economy.

This year, on its 15th anniversary, the theme was ‘Build The Future’, reflecting on how apprenticeships can help individuals to develop the skills and knowledge required to create a rewarding career, and businesses to develop a workforce equipped with future-ready skills.

It’s a chance to understand how apprenticeships have helped businesses of all sizes, with over 1,200 virtual and in person events targeted at stakeholders, businesses, training providers and schools.

The debate between apprenticeships and university has been long running, with both having their fair share of pros and cons, choosing your next step after education isn’t that simple for the average teen anymore.

As an apprentice myself, I can vouch for this difficult decision. The summer after leaving college was spent, for me personally, mulling over the big life decision of what to do next? To uni or not to uni. To begin an apprenticeship or not to. And that’s before the enticing idea of a gap year is thrown into the works…

For the lucky few that know exactly what path they want to go down, it can be a very simple decision. But through my own experience, and speaking to many friends and fellow college students, this is not always the case.

The pressure around this decision is sometimes more daunting than what follows, perhaps it’s because as individuals we have various endeavours and interests that we’d like to pursue and the idea of narrowing it down to one can be difficult to process.

Luckily, both university courses and apprenticeships are designed to be multi-faceted so that certain areas you once thought would be left behind, are now fulfilled at some point during your course.

A good point in favour of apprenticeships is the immediate introduction that they have into an industry such as construction, which in the midst of the skills shortage, is more relevant to apprenticeships than ever.

Simon Girling, Director of SEH French, says: “The industry has had a skills shortage for a number of years now, it’s been ongoing and is probably only going to get worse.”

Although to some the pay can be off putting, and in some instances the length of the course can too, the nature of apprenticeships means that young people are introduced to a new skill set at a younger age, where they’re able to learn in a hands-on environment.

When asked how he thinks apprentices can help construction’s skill shortage, Simon explained: “Young people with fresh ideas develop and grow with us as people and in their chosen trade.

“Apprentices help support our senior staff which in turn helps us operate and have better capabilities for meeting our clients’ requirements and our own workloads,” adding that he believes apprentices will see and learn more in the workplace than they would purely in a classroom setting.

With an estimated 168,500 construction jobs to be created between 2019 and 2023 according to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), apprenticeships in construction have a vital role to play in helping close the construction skills gap.

It could be argued that university courses don’t have the same initial impact as apprenticeships do. With most courses as long as 3 or 4 years, and the task of actually finding a job after, it could be many years before their degrees are put to use within industries. Compared with apprentices that could be starting 5 years prior, this obviously impacts the way job vacancies are being met.

It’s true that some apprenticeships are as lengthy as university ones, such as an electrician course that averages at 3 years long. But apart from the one-day educational requirement, apprentices mimic a full-time workers’ week, alleviating the skills shortage much quicker.

Commenting on what apprentices can bring to a company, Girling said: “Apprentices will always offer you something new. We have brilliant employees in the company who have been in the industry for many years, but it’s good to have the different outlook an apprentice brings.

“Our staff at SEH French are keen to develop people which gives apprentices the best possible opportunities, and I think that’s the key for any successful business.”

When enquired on the balance with work and the apprentice’s college requirements on his company, Simon commented: “We’ve taken on apprentices for many years, and we’ve learned with them. We’ve developed a structured system to make sure we monitor and review their performance.

“That’s a key thing, it allows us to identify where they can develop more and therefore ensure they get the right opportunities as well.”

I’d encourage Simon’s take on this to be used more widely within the sector, the better the training and resources provided to the apprentice, the better they will reward your company with the work that they do – which will both fulfil their role and the gap that you may have in your business.

Of course, both apprenticeships and university courses are rewarding for the individual that chooses to do them – the two are difficult to compare as they both bring so much to the table. I’ve compared the two side-by-side for the sake of this article to show how apprenticeships might act as a quicker solution now, as the UK deals with the ongoing skills shortage. Whereas university students become more useful, in terms of employment, after completing their degree.

Girling comments: “There is a skills shortage in every area and sector of the industry, so it’s important for us to contribute to bringing in new people. I think companies have an obligation to do that to help alleviate the shortage.”

Mollie Bilbie

Originally published in Design & Build UK construction magazine

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