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construction apprenticeships.

Despite a concentrated effort, the construction industry is still facing a critical shortage of skilled workers. Although construction offers long-term, fulfilling careers in a variety of roles, it still remains inordinately challenging to fill entry level positions. It would appear that a generation of potential talent is bypassing the construction sector, leading many to question the future viability of the industry.

Where are the young entrants?

Recent research [1] suggests that only 6% of 18-24 year olds are considering a career in construction, which is far from sufficient to backfill the positions left by those approaching retirement age [2], let alone plug the existing gaps in the workforce.

There are a number of reasons cited for the lack of interest in the sector amongst the younger generation, however, the majority consider that they lack the required skills, are dissuaded by the prospect of manual work and are unaware of the opportunities that are available within the sector. 

The introduction of T-Levels was designed to help fill the gap by offering young entrants the opportunity to earn while they train and acquire recognised qualifications, but this has yet to achieve the desired uptake. As modern pathways into employment are failing to achieve the necessary traction, many construction companies looking to fill gaps in their workforce are once again turning their attention to apprenticeships.

Are apprenticeships the solution?

Apprenticeships are a tried and tested solution for companies needing junior workers. They offer students a hands-on approach to learning and combine practical experience with theoretical knowledge. Apprenticeships have long been recognised as a powerful tool in tackling skills shortages and creating a structured pathway for new entrants.

Construction companies wanting to exploit the benefits of apprenticeships cannot afford to wait for the right talent to come to them. They must engage proactively with educational institutions, promote their vacancies to the candidates themselves and embed themselves within their communities, promoting their social values and the opportunities that they can offer.

They must work hard to dispel the myths that apprentices are underpaid and over-worked and promote instead the wealth of opportunities that are available to those who put in the hard graft, learn from those more experienced and work their way up the career ladder.

Companies that are fully committed to employing apprentices and providing them with meaningful opportunities and a long-term career could consider attaining the "Good Youth Employment Standard" [3] in order to attract and retain talented entrants.

Alternative entry points

Apprenticeships can create a strong foundation for the future by embedding the skills and experience that young entrants need to succeed in this industry, but do they go far enough and will they deliver results in a timely enough fashion to prevent a talent cliff-edge in the coming years?

To guard against an unsustainable vacancy rate, it is essential that apprenticeships are considered alongside other entry routes. Collaboration and cooperation between industry stakeholders, government bodies and educational institutions are essential to develop a well-rounded entry system that caters to entrants with diverse skills, knowledge, experience, aspirations and backgrounds. There are numerous facets to consider:

- Skills bootcamps [4]. These are fully funded 16 week training programmes open to applicants aged 19 and over who are interested in furthering their skills, returning to work or embarking on a career in construction. Successful candidates are guaranteed an interview at the end of their course, which can pave the way to a career in civil engineering, construction supervision, thermal wall insulation installation, bricklaying, joinery, plastering or decorating.

- Educational partnerships. Construction companies can create meaningful connections with educational institutions in their community, developing tailored programmes to bridge the gap between academic studies and practical applications. This bespoke approach can ensure that students are better prepared for the workplace and understand the opportunities that are available to them.

- Transferable skills. Recruiting only from within a narrow talent pool of individuals who have already identified an interest in construction is clearly not going to be sufficient to bridge the gap. Instead, construction companies must appeal to those with transferable skills, highlighting the way in which skills gained elsewhere can be beneficial within the construction sector and facilitating career changes for successful applicants. 

- Community outreach. Employers must work hard to dispel stereotypes and to showcase their success stories within their local communities. By engaging with local residents and promoting construction as a viable career option for young people, it may be possible to attract individuals who may not previously have considered a career within the industry.

In conclusion, apprenticeships are a good start to building the workforce from the bottom up but creating lasting, positive change will require a culture shift, supported by substantial investment, in order to derive the benefits that are possible and secure the future of the UK's construction sector. 



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