Features - Business

Apprenticeships in construction: sparse yet inclusive?

It is quite a tiresome trend, to be constantly reading about how the General Election, Brexit, and all the associated political and economic uncertainty has affected the construction industry, but yet again this is the explanation behind more turbulence, though this time in apprenticeships.

With construction project pipelines appearing sparse, due to the potential disturbances in the near political future, few construction firms are willing to offer apprenticeships for fear of little work and therefore smaller profits. This means that less apprentices are being hired and other young people, spectating the chances of employment in the industry, are exploring other areas for potential employment instead.

The recent prominence of the skills shortage should then come as no surprise, considering that a climate of uncertainty in the political world has bled into construction to such an extent that it is hindering employment. However, some solace can be taken in how social progress has likewise taken an effect.

The failures of the Apprenticeship Levy

In the April of 2017 the British Government introduced the Apprenticeship Levy, which meant that businesses with a payroll of £3M or more were required to pay monthly deposits, that amounted to 0.5 per cent of their annual pay bill, into an apprenticeship levy pot. Businesses would then be able to make claims to withdraw funding from this apprenticeship levy pot for spending on apprentice training, and any funding which remained unused after a duration of 24 months would then be allocated to SMEs, with a payroll of less than £3M, for them to spend on apprenticeship programmes and training. Ultimately, the scheme was targeted at creating a further 3M apprenticeships by 2020.

This target, however, is now considered beyond reach (wholly unsurprising considering it is now 2020). According to Apprenticeship Statistics from the House of Commons Library, which were published less than one month ago, 72,400 fewer people were participating in apprenticeships in the 2018/19 year than there were in the 2017/18 year, making the Apprenticeship Levy, in regard to its end goal, an unquestionable failure.

Worsening this shortfall in overall apprenticeship numbers is the fact that by September 2019 approximately £133M from the apprenticeship levy pot had been unclaimed by both large scale businesses and SMEs. What this means is that the money which was being set aside to help take on apprentices was simply going unused and this was on account of the spare funding in question still not being enough to support SMEs in taking on said apprentices. In fact, a survey which was conducted at the end of last year, by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), found that nearly one quarter (24 per cent) of apprenticeship providers had to turn down potential SME employers on account of a lack of funding.

What this may mean is that the pre-existing method of boosting apprenticeship figures, from before the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, may need to be re-introduced, with that being a £1.5Bn apprenticeship budget from the central government.

The closing of the gender gap

On a much lighter note, it was previously stated in this article that social progress had taken effect upon apprenticeships within the construction sector and that can certainly be seen in the proportion of female apprentices that are now entering the industry.

Around one year ago, an article by the Guardian uncovered that female apprentices only accounted for a proportion of five per cent of apprentices in the entire construction sector, with female apprentices instead dominating the childcare industry, where they displayed a majority of 94 per cent. Naturally, these statistics raise questions on how women are being represented in the construction industry and whether young men are being steered into well-paid, skilled labour positions more than their female counterparts.

However, a great deal has changed over the course of one year as the House of Commons Library Apprenticeship Statistics also revealed that the gender profile of people starting work on apprenticeships generally now favours women for the first time. In the previous 2017/18 year the gender profile favoured men at 51 per cent to women’s 49 per cent, but in the 2018/19 year women are now the ever so slight majority at a proportion of 50.1 per cent.

Although this does not shed specific light upon the progress made within construction based apprenticeships, the word ‘apprenticeship’ in itself is one that we associate with the construction and engineering industries. So, if more women are deciding to seek out an ‘apprenticeship’ as a way of finding employment, this can only mean that gender profiles are heading in a more a balanced direction across all sectors.

National Apprenticeship Week

One way in which apprenticeships can gain the exposure that they need this year is through the annual National Apprenticeship Week (Monday 3rd February 2020 – Sunday 9th February 2020) where schools and employers are encouraged to host events so that prospective apprentices can see all that is on offer to them.

This year National Apprenticeship Week is celebrating the diversity and value that apprenticeships bring to their employers and communities, making the encouragement of women into sectors such as construction a very likely goal.

If you would like to read more articles like this then please click here.