Apprenticeship numbers rise for first time in six years

The number of apprentices starting their careers in construction increased for the first time in six years, according to figures released this week.

Around 26,100 apprenticeships began in the year to July 2022, the latest figures available. This is an increase of more than 6,000 on the previous 12 months.

Despite the “heartening” revelation, Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) chief executive Alasdair Reisner pointed out that the industry still needs a large number of skilled workers.

A recent report by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) suggested that more than 40,000 people will need to join the sector every year in the next five years to meet demand.

“People are our industry’s most valuable resource,” Reisner said. “CECA members have reported challenges in recent months in finding the right people for the right jobs, hence we believe the UK Government should redouble efforts to work with industry to promote construction as the well-paid, exciting career choice that it is.

“This will enable employers to both create and sustain the highly-skilled, dedicated workforce UK construction requires, as the foundation for delivering growth-boosting schemes to secure the economy in all parts of England, Scotland and Wales.”

Federation of Master Builders (FMB) chief executive Brian Berry said there was a “significant gulf” between the number of people entering the industry and the number required to meet demand.

“This will only get worse as the ageing workforce starts to retire and new areas of work like retrofitting really take off,” he added. “Looking ahead, green skills will be in high demand as consumers seek to lower their energy bills and heat their homes through energy efficiency improvements.”

Research by the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) this week revealed that vacancies in construction spiked at the end of 2022 while the overall number of applicants fell, which the organisation said was a “worrying sign”.

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, just 16,000 apprentices started on courses in Britain, prompting calls for action from the Construction Leadership Council. At the time, the five-year average was said to be 22,500.

Research released last year by thinktank the Institute for Public Policy Research found that apprenticeships across all sectors had fallen by 72 per cent in England since 2014/15.

Des Duddy, joint managing director of tool and equipment supplier Protrade, said that while the latest uptick in construction was welcome, there were reasons why apprenticeships had declined in the long term, including falling government funding.

Within the sector there is also a need for jobs to be done instantly, he said, meaning that hiring an apprentice is not always the most attractive option.

“A business can get an apprentice in but the reality is that it will take a year or two before they are fully up to speed. Most businesses opt to avoid that scenario, preferring to get someone in who can get the job done now.”

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