Sector - skills

Dispelling misconceptions of apprenticeships

The benefits of construction apprenticeships are too often overshadowed by higher education. It’s not just about learning a trade, it’s about the abundance of life skills opportunities that can be gained through such a career route.

With this year’s National Apprenticeship Week theme being life skills, Nicola Hodkinson, owner and director at Seddon explains why she believes construction is an excellent sector to complete an apprenticeship in if you are looking to gain more than just trade skills. There needs to be more recognition of apprenticeships as a valued and aspirational learning experience, to allow our next generation to harness the opportunities that they bring.

Life skills which can’t be taught

The misconceptions of apprenticeships need to be addressed and dispelled. They are often perceived to be a last resort when university isn’t an option, but this comparison is tired and outdated. An apprenticeship in construction is not just a one-way street, as over 100 roles can be pursued, with more being added regularly. As well as exposing young people to many opportunities in the industry, apprenticeships also provide great ‘earning while learning’ benefits, with the prospect of going into a role that pays far above the national average and not being lumbered by student debt.

When it comes to the quality of education, construction apprenticeships provide onsite experience that cannot be taught in classrooms. Apprentices gain an insight into how a site team works and the day-to-day problem solving and practical work. In addition to this, they also get first-hand experience of the work ethic and teamwork that is so prominent in this industry. Apprentices can shadow highly experienced construction workers which gives them an honest insight into the industry. Experience like this cannot be taught anywhere else other than a construction site.

The life skills gained from a construction apprenticeship are attributes that our apprentices can build on for the rest of their career. This is something that must be communicated from industry to education. A blend of practical and academic learning related to a specific job role grows efficient employees with good work ethic, who will be a valuable addition to any company.

A head start to a career

Along with the abundance of skills, an apprenticeship provides a head start on a career path above and beyond those studying for the same vocation through other higher education. University students often enter the construction industry expecting to be on the same salary as a brick layer only to find they must complete NVQ to show their occupational competence. Many students have never set foot on a building site which means they require initial training, placing them steps behind apprentices from the outset of their career.

Dismantling the pre-existing narrative

The advantage that comes from life skills forming such a huge part of construction apprenticeships gives ample opportunity for social mobility. It’s not about what school you went to or what background you come from, there is no glass ceiling in construction. We see people from a variety of backgrounds progress into prosperous careers and as a result, the industry is becoming more diverse and inclusive. This needs to be promoted to alter people’s negative perceptions. The outdated stigma of construction being a white male dominated industry needs to be broken in order for people to understand the opportunities available for those interested in joining our industry.

To deconstruct negative opinions of apprenticeships, we need to raise awareness by celebrating them in a similar way to GCSE’s, A Levels and university degrees, which are all front-page news when it comes to results days. Apprenticeship achievements are not currently recognised in an equal manner, which shapes public perception around their academic and societal value. 

Investing in the future

Industry needs to do its part in creating apprenticeship opportunities too. Employers must understand the importance of apprentices when it comes to investing in the next generation of skills. There is a collective goal here that as an industry we must collaborate and reach because if our employers don’t invest in the future, we will see a shortage in the workforce and a fall in current standards. Desperation could drive developers to take on lower-quality workers, leading to substandard buildings. This is something that will impact the functionality, wellbeing and safety our communities and society as whole. It is something that we cannot overlook.

By recognising the range of life skills and trade skills which apprenticeships provide and celebrating achievements of apprentices, perceptions can be adjusted. Without encouraging young people to join the sector there will be a shortage of skills which will result in substandard work. Misconceptions need to be addressed to encourage young people to grasp the opportunities available, which will benefit our industry in the long-term as it will provide us with a highly trained and skilful workforce.


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