Employers need to embrace the Apprenticeship Levy and see it as an investment in their future
Given the number of stories across the media echoing the concerns over construction skills shortages, you’d be mistaken for thinking that the whole issue was something new. However, a quick Google will throw up similar ones dating back decades and all proclaiming the same doom and gloom as today.
So is this simply history repeating itself, or a case of the construction sector learning nothing and the 2008 economic crisis providing an excuse for the sector not to notice, care or do anything about it?
I suspect it’s a bit of all three; the construction sector was one of the hardest hit post-2008 and perhaps can be excused for looking closer to home, preferring to do what it could to protect the present rather than the future. If nothing else it was certainly responsible for the lack of progress in addressing the skills shortage as many companies, and government, lacked the surplus funds to invest in the issue. And besides, what would have been the point of new blood if there was little construction going on?
If there is a silver lining to the recession it is that it provided the UK with some breathing space, reducing the pre-recession labour demand that was predicted at the time. However, we are now out of the recession and notwithstanding the yet unknown consequences of Brexit, the lack of skills and people available for construction poses a real and economically damaging problem.
The sector is already having to deal with delayed projects and a slow-down in investment, the last thing it needs is to worry if the right skills are available. And projects will emerge; the government is committed to High Speed 2 and has stated the importance of future infrastructure projects to UK economic growth. It can therefore be assumed that it is only a matter of time before these projects get underway and the skills shortage really begins to bite.
So what’s being done? The Apprenticeship Levy is one proposed solution, and it should make quite an impact. Many question the logic of shifting education funding from state to employer, but isn’t it logical to have industry fund the training for the people it wants, for the jobs and skills it needs and for the future it wants to see?
Recent details of the proposed scheme even suggest that for around 98% of employers in England, 90% of the costs will be covered by government. The investment that is required by employers will surely be returned many times over if the apprenticeship scheme is of the right quality. Smaller firms with fewer than 50 employees taking on a 16 to 18-year-old apprentice may not be required to make any financial contribution towards the cost of the levy at all.
It is time for companies to embrace the scheme and see it for what it is – an investment in their future. It gives companies the control they need over training and as provider ourselves we see the benefits of this in the calibre of apprentices produced and lower drop-out rates. Brexit’s slow-burn consequences have yet to manifest either positively or negatively on labour supplies, but complacency would be folly.
Whatever the impact of Brexit, now is the time to build a self-sufficient economy via our own workforce and to not leave the issue to chance. Resource and actions should come from all parties and not just the construction companies themselves, who let’s face it have had a hard enough time as it is in recent years. A full strategy targeting grass-root levels through to graduates must be implemented, which together with apprenticeships will solve the problem.
This needs to be done soon or else history will be something not only repeating itself but something within which we will be living.
- William Berridge is managing director at Dewey Group