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The critical issue of the shortage of skills is a key challenge for future and sustained growth in the construction industry. Here, Steve Horrocks, Technical Director at Stroma, offers his interpretation of the statement “A commitment to apprenticeship schemes is needed to tackle the critical issue of skills shortage in the UK construction industry.”

Construction employers are reporting that there simply aren’t enough skilled construction workers out there to meet demand, and to compound the problem, they are seeing fewer new entrants to the industry, meaning that the issue is likely to worsen over time as current workers retire.

This is not a new problem: for years there has been an emerging pattern of school-leavers favouring academic over vocational routes, encouraged by their schools. However, the problems have been exacerbated by the recent industry downturn, which caused many young people to associate the construction industry with a lack of opportunity.

Apprenticeships have the capability to address all of these issues, removing the barriers to entry and forming a vital, establishing component of a robust skills framework for the industry. Whilst they cannot replace higher and more specialised technical qualifications, they complement them, laying a strong foundation for later learning and a defined study path, which is backed by the Qualifications and Credit Framework.

In my role as Technical Director for training and certification provider Stroma Certification and as an industry employer, I’ve had a rare opportunity to look at skills shortages from both sides of the fence. It is my belief that apprenticeship schemes benefit everyone involved, from the apprentices, to the employers, to the training providers involved in raising industry skill levels.

Apprentices receive, at the most basic level, an opportunity to enter the industry without a need for existing qualifications or the financial wherewithal to fund them. However, apprenticeships deliver much more than that, by presenting them with transferrable qualifications alongside highly structured on-the-job learning and mentoring from industry professionals.

For industry training and certification providers such as Stroma, these schemes ultimately bring us more learners, who come to us with enhanced industry knowledge and a clear idea of their training goals.

For employers, apprenticeship schemes bring new skills to the business: they deliver well-rounded new staff within a short period, due to the schemes’ broad coverage of technical knowledge, work-based competences, soft skills, and general numeracy and literacy.

Apprenticeship schemes come in a variety of shapes and with a lot of inherent flexibility. For candidates whose industry career path is not already well-fixed in their minds, apprenticeships pose an opportunity to get to know the industry, try out different tasks, and understand their own strengths, weaknesses and interests so that they can visualise their place in it. These lessons are used to shape personal development plans which benefit both the apprentice and the employer.

As an employer, Stroma has achieved significant successes in hosting apprentices; we find them to be enthusiastic and engaged team members, who often progress quickly to further training and qualifications and positions.

For apprenticeship schemes to work, support is needed from employers and training providers, as well as from Government. Given the significant value they add to individual employers and the industry’s wider skills base, I feel that this is an investment we cannot afford not to make.