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Apprenticeships, the skills shortage and Brexit: Interview with UCATT’s Brian Rye

UK Construction Online talk exclusively with Brian Rye, Acting General Secretary of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) about the skill shortage, the apprenticeship levy, and the impact upon the construction industry of a Brexit.

Brian Rye was Regional Secretary for the Eastern Region for over a decade before becoming National Secretary. He is currently Acting General Secretary of UCATT.


Is there too much emphasis on getting young people into construction rather than encouraging more mature people into training?

No construction is an excellent industry for young people and provides skills for life. However easier avenues should be created for more mature people to enter the industry.

Do you think the government is being proactive enough in tackling the skill shortage?

No. it has washed it hands of the problem. If the Government was serious they would introduce strict procurement rules that forced companies undertaking public sector contracts to train young people as apprentices.

What’s your opinion on the government’s plans to introduce an apprenticeship levy?

Supportive in a cautious way. It has got to be used for genuine training and not as a subsidy to be milked by large companies who have used other schemes to pay existing employees.

The construction industry seems to be the first to bear the brunt in times of economic uncertainty or crisis; do you think anything could be done to protect the industry?

Yes. The industry needs to be much better regulated and public sector projects better managed and spaced out. The industry should be managed to grow at an even pace rather than the current boom and bust approach.

How do you view a potential ‘Brexit’ impacting on the skills shortage?

It will make things worse. The inevitable economic slowdown will lead to companies ditching what little training they are currently undertaking.

Thinking about the scandal of umbrella companies being used to deprive construction workers of key benefits, do you think the role of the construction worker is valued enough by the government?

No. The Government has no interest and does not value traditional blue collar craft skills. There is no attempt to improve the industry’s image by creating greater security of employment.

Is there an argument that years of under investment has led to a need to undertake a huge number of infrastructure and housing projects in a short space of time putting the construction industry under a great deal of stress?

That is one argument the counter argument is that years of miss-managing the economy and a failure to invest in infrastructure and housing consistently over many years has placed stress on the construction industry.

The recent report of young people completing construction courses that failed to lead to an apprenticeship or an employment is extremely worrying. Where does the blame lie for this?

The blame lies with the Government they are funding courses which are not leading to the correct qualifications in order to massage figures about NEETs etc. This investment should be re-focussed on ensuring young people are undertaking genuine apprenticeships.

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