14th February 2023
Apprenticeships can help deliver a robust future for the sector

Phil Smith, Director at Rund discusses the value of apprenticeships in light of an ongoing skills shortage in the construction industry - as seen on Showhouse.

With an ongoing skills shortage threatening the industry’s pipeline of experienced talent, employers within the built environment are quickly realising that it is time to start thinking outside the box when it comes to attracting young people to the sector.

Whilst some companies are turning to apprenticeships to encourage more young people into the sector, many are still feigning ignorance to the scheme. Rather than the default method of gaining experience through a university degree, learning on the job should be seen as an attractive option for both employers and young employees. 

There are a number of clear benefits for starting out a career as an apprentice, drawing thousands to apply to often very competitive placements due to the limited availability in opportunities. That being said, government data shows that the uptake of construction and engineering apprenticeships has risen for the first time in six years, with 26,100 new apprenticeships starting in the sector between August 2021 and July 2022, the first annual increase since 2016/17. Whilst these are very positive signs, we can’t ignore the fact that the sector is facing a real crisis in its ageing workforce. A drought in readily available talent and an ageing workforce is a recipe for disaster, perpetuating labour shortages and higher workloads for staff. Aside from this being a pinch point for business profitability and growth – the most important concern is how this added workload impacts staff health and wellbeing in the long and short term.

It is estimated that the built environment will need around 53,000 extra recruits each year over the next four years to meet projected UK construction demand – a figure which feels completely unattainable, unless apprenticeships are put front and centre as a strategy for futureproofing the built environment sector in the UK.

Importantly, apprenticeships also offer opportunities to underrepresented cohorts, and attract talent from all backgrounds. As opposed to a select few from top universities, who are statistically likely to represent only a narrow set of ethnic and financial backgrounds, apprenticeships remove the barrier to entry enforced by the minimum requirement of a university degree. Not only does this benefit many students from diverse backgrounds, but it facilitates the creation of a meritocratic and culturally rich workplace – which every sector should strive for.

The value brought to businesses by apprenticeships alone is a convincing reason for employers in the construction sector to recruit more of these valuable young people. Home-grown talent is hard to come by, and providing training for apprentices is an excellent boost to long-term job retention and satisfaction. Beyond this, young apprentices have a kaleidoscope outlook on life. They are typically full of buzz and enthusiasm with exciting ideas, concepts and differing approaches to solving challenges than some of the more senior members in a team. This opportunity for skill sharing between generations and new perspectives is an added bonus to ensuring businesses in our sector are not left in the dark ages.

Considering the diverse benefits of hiring apprentices, it is surprising that so few businesses within the built environment have decided to manage and offer apprenticeships as a solution to plugging the skills shortage. The only hope is that colleagues across the sector identify opportunities to learn and appreciate the importance of offering apprenticeships going forward, so that next year and the year after that – we’re able to have a very different conversation as our sector starts to bubble with new talent.

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