37 HPM 0413

HPM April 2013

Got a story? Ring us on 01732 748041 or e-mail twood@unity-media.com TRAINING/TECHNICAL A new approach to solve a skills crisis JTL chief executive, Denis Hird, makes the case for a definition of apprenticeships... Policy Exchange’s report, Technical Matters, published in January, called for apprenticeships to be a protected term. The report recommended defining apprenticeships as “an intensive three year training programme with significant educational and workplace learning requirements”, a move I wholeheartedly support. Figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) show that apprenticeship numbers have risen from 239,900 to 520,600 between 2008 and 2012. Although this rise across the board can only be a positive turn of events, I must confess there is cause for concern when we consider which sectors have seen the biggest rise in apprenticeship starters. Apprenticeship starts in ‘construction, planning and the built environment’ have decreased by five per cent between 2009 and 2012. In the 2010-11 academic year alone, apprenticeship starts in this area fell by 4,000 according to figures from BIS. STARTLING AND CONCERNING In contrast, the number of apprenticeships in the ’business, administration and law’ sectors have grown rapidly over the same period, increasing by more than 30,000 starters in the same academic year. That contrast is startling and concerning. If this trend continues, we run the risk of not having enough skilled workers in industry. The people who suffer will be those whose homes and offices need building and maintaining, as there simply won’t be the workforce available, never mind having the operatives for large scale infrastructure projects. I’m in favour of giving all young people a helping hand into a worthwhile career, but it is now more important than ever to strengthen our skilled industries. We need to fight to encourage talent into our industry so that we have the manpower available when the demand for it increases. To do this, we need to recognise that working in this sector requires highly skilled professionals; that training to enter this sector is demanding; and that this kind of training is about developing a skill for life. We will only achieve this recognition if an apprenticeship is seen as a top quality and valuable qualification that leads to a career with a future. In light of this, I believe that we should protect the term ‘apprenticeship’ to preserve the value behind the qualification and sectors that have a history of training and developing new talent – specifically in the skilled professions. There’s no denying that times are tough, and that the building services sector has been badly affected by the economic turbulence of the last WWW.HPMMAG.COM few years. Funds simply aren’t there any more to train apprentices. But, by protecting the term ‘apprentice’ and ‘apprenticeship’ – so that it only refers to a training programme which spans a minimum of three years and contains a balance of practical experience and classroom learning – the government could ensure courses that don’t meet the stringent criteria set by industry would not receive funding. As a result, financial support could be channelled into the courses that do, and into supporting the industries which are actively seeking new entrants. If other vocational courses were branded under a different term, e.g. ‘traineeships’, we could ensure that the budget available for training apprentices is directly invested in filling the skills gaps. This approach would offer a solution to the current skills crisis faced in our skilled sectors and would be a significant step towards safeguarding these industries’ future survival. Business owners in the building services sector fully recognise the value apprentices bring to their firms – many of them started out as apprentices themselves – but are often constrained by lack of funds when it comes to employing them. I meet employers who say they wish they had the money to take on apprentices, but simply can’t afford it. We know that construction is often the last sector to emerge from recession, so there needs to be a means of supporting the employers through this period so that an entire generation of skills is not lost and an entire industry doesn’t disappear. The alternative to training apprentices is to employ foreign labour. While I have no problem with this, the fact that foreign labour is itinerant by nature means that we run into problems when work dries up or other, better paid, opportunities come along. It is in the long-term 36 APRIL 2013 HEATING & PLUMBING MONTHLY interest of the sector – and the country – that we train the next generation of workers and we need to help the people who are willing to do so. If we don’t, we run the risk of having to pay twice over – once to import labour to carry out the work because we don’t have the homegrown skills necessary to carry the work out, and again to support the people who are out of work because they don’t have the skills to make them employable. There will be a demand for a large number of skilled workers within building services once High Speed 2 and public sector construction projects announced by the government over the last few months get underway. These projects are all long-term investments and will not start overnight. Therefore, it makes sense to train and develop the skills which will be needed to help build and maintain large scale infrastructure and commercial buildings now, so that we don’t have a shortfall later on. Apprenticeships are about helping young people take their first step to a skilled career. If we protect the term we can protect the funding which comes with it and safeguard the sectors which are actively seeking to take on young people. Our skilled sectors have been badly hit by the recession and are still recovering, but we need to be certain the difficult economic climate does not result in a skills shortage in the future. Protecting the term ‘apprenticeship’ would ensure the funding goes to the right places – supporting employers in sectors which make a real difference to the economy. If we redefine ‘apprenticeships’ to recognise the role they play in supporting skilled industries and the economy, we can protect the sectors which need support and which play a vital role in our economic success. enquiry number 131 Skilled industries need to be strengthened


HPM April 2013
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