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Steve Powell: Do apprenticeships really suit you? There is another way

Recently, we took on a second batch of trainees as part of a new initiative that departs from the popular apprenticeship route and returns to the “recruit and train” model that served the industry so well for many years.

talking point all foundations steve powell 2

Steve Powell is training, quality and health and safety manager with All Foundations

Apprenticeships are very much the fashion in a construction industry desperately seeking a solution to the skills shortage – a shortage likely to worsen with the effects of Brexit and HS2 – and in some cases appear the only route employers feel like they can go down. But in our opinion apprenticeships are inflexible and unsuitable for a company like ours.

All Foundations is a specialist piling company working in construction and rail so our work requires highly specialist skills and our employees require very specific training. Apprenticeships, while no doubt an incredibly important part of helping young people into work, take a more broad brush approach and are not suited for such a niche area.

So 18 months ago we decided on a step-change in our recruitment policy and returned to a more traditional method. We employed five young people aged 18 to 20 on a full time basis last year and three so far this year, fast-tracking them through a modular training scheme to being qualified and ready to join full-time. It has raised eyebrows within the industry, especially as we employ one of the very few, if not the only, young female piler in the UK. It’s something we are proud of, and encouraging more young women into the industry plays an important role in our employment strategy.

For the young people, the pathway to development is also much clearer. Some who only joined last year have already shed their trainee status and have gone full-time, with the equivalent wage and benefits. That provides great encouragement to them to continue to develop, and gives those coming in behind them something tangible to aspire to.

In the modern labour market, that reassurance is vital and apprenticeships don’t really provide it. Here we invest so much when they arrive because we want and need them to stay. A proper contract and treating them like an employee provides a sense of worth and value, which in turn drives productivity and inspires loyalty, helping with key skills retention.

Equally it is crucial, particularly in the booming rail infrastructure sector, and All Foundations being one of very few piling companies in the UK to be accredited by the Railway Industry Supplier Qualification Scheme (RISQS), because suppliers like us need to remain agile and able to meet demand, which means when employees join us they have to be able to hit the ground running and be able to positively affect the business at the earliest opportunity.

It is incredibly encouraging that the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) has seen the value of this approach and has supported us with grant funding, and other local and Government grants makes recruiting a very strong and better-focused alternative to apprenticeships.

Employing and training young people has also helped us expand the business quickly and confidently, and the recruits are certainly proving their worth. With apprenticeships having such a high profile, it is easy for businesses to forget that recruiting young, enthusiastic people provides a viable and valuable alternative to addressing the skills shortage and growing your business.

  • Steve Powell is training, quality and health and safety manager with All Foundations

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