Construction apprenticeships plummet in London

The number of construction apprenticeships starting in London has fallen for each of the last three years, research has revealed.

Data published by the London Assembly Economy Committee showed that 18 per cent fewer people began construction apprenticeships in the capital in 2020/21 than in 2017/18.

This far outstripped a 3 per cent dip in the total number of apprenticeship starts across all sectors in London over the same time period.

The committee said fewer apprenticeships were on offer last year than before the much-heralded Apprenticeship Levy was introduced in 2017.

Recommendations made to ministers in the committee’s report included introduction of financial incentives for employers to hire apprentices who are disabled or under the age of 19.

Economy Committee chair Neil Garratt said: “Apprenticeships are a valuable tool in providing pathways into work and an excellent opportunity for the existing workforce to gain new skills.

“But our investigation heard that there remains a lack of awareness of apprenticeships among both employers and young people. This means missed opportunities for employers to develop their workforce and missed opportunities for people struggling to find a career path that is right for them.”

The estimated number of Level 2 apprenticeships in London – across all sectors – has fallen by 62 per cent since 2016/17, according to the study, while the number of apprentices under the age of 19 has fallen by half.

SMEs in particular offer fewer apprenticeships since the levy was introduced, the committee found. It called for the government to allow businesses to transfer a greater proportion of their levy funding to smaller, non-levy paying firms.

Graham Watts, chief executive of the Construction Industry Council, said industry apprentice numbers were slowly picking up nationwide after a dip during the pandemic.

But he added that the “level of bureaucracy” involved in offering apprenticeships formed an obstacle for smaller firms in particular.

Beyond this was a broader challenge for the sector, he added, in improving “the profile and attractiveness of the industry for school leavers”.

Deputy mayor of London for skills Jules Pipe said at a meeting of the Economy Committee last month that there was a “1950s view” about “some of the roles… such as construction”.

He added: “These are out of date and we need to move them on. We need to improve the awareness of apprenticeships, the quality of what exists now and the standard and breadth of careers that go on from those.”

Helen Yeulet, who leads the Skills Group at engineering trade body alliance Actuate UK, said the “very low levels” of construction apprenticeship training highlighted by the committee report was “consistent with our own data from the engineering services sector”.

She added: “Most engineering services employers in London tend to be small or medium size firms and have faced many challenges over recent years, including disruption due to COVID-19.

“Actuate UK welcomes the committee’s focus on addressing barriers to take up of apprenticeships in London and would welcome the opportunity to work more closely to increase levels of take up, especially as we grapple with the demand for green skills for the future and an ageing workforce.”

Lee Bryer, industry insight manager at the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), said the figures in the Economy Committee study were “broadly in line with national trends and reflect CITB’s latest analysis”.

He pointed out that the 2 per cent drop in construction apprenticeship starts in the capital between 2016/2017 and 2020/2021 was smaller than in many other sectors.

“The pandemic has undoubtedly impacted numbers since 2019, with confidence to recruit an apprentice lower,” said Bryer.

“The makeup of the construction sector in London will also be a factor. It has a high proportion of large firms and lower levels of direct employment. Although London has very significant unmet construction demand, it also has a very diverse economy and the pressure on long-established sectors like construction is gradually becoming more acute as demand increases elsewhere – notably information and communication technology.”

A spokesperson for mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “The mayor has been clear about the importance of supporting Londoners into employment in the construction sector through apprenticeships – and he has already set up his Construction Academy which is helping Londoners to acquire the crucial skills they need to access jobs in the capital’s construction sector.

“The Mayor also continues to call on the government to invest more in housebuilding and to introduce a devolved apprenticeship service for London, which would help to address the falling numbers of construction apprenticeships.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said increasing apprenticeship starts “remains a key priority”.

“Since 2010, there have been over 5 million apprenticeship starts,” they added. “It is also great to see a big rise in the number of people starting apprenticeships in the first quarter of this academic year – up 43% on last year.

“We will continue to work with employers to boost the number of apprenticeships available including by increasing apprenticeship funding by £2.7 billion by 2024-25 to support businesses of all sizes to build the skilled workforce they need.”

Last summer, the CITB found that an extra 216,800 construction workers would be needed by 2025 to meet demand.

But figures released by the Office for National Statistics last month showed that the number of self-employed workers in construction hit its lowest level for 18 years in 2021.

 

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