Skills, or the lack thereof, is a favourite topic of conversation in construction circles.
Talk of housing or major infrastructure delivery typically comes with the caveat: “Well, will we have enough people to build the bloody things?”
The problem is clear to see.
The National Infrastructure Plan for Skills last year reported a gap of 100,000 construction workers over the next five years.
With question marks over the free movement of labour following Brexit, it seems this could get worse.
A well thought-out government plan on apprentices is therefore an essential part of efforts to tackle the skills crisis.
Whitehall’s ambition is good: three million new apprentices by 2020, backed by its new apprenticeship levy. Here, however, is where the cracks in the government’s efforts have started appearing.
Since April, employers and industry bodies have been calling for details on where the caps will be set for each standard in the new levy. This is crucial for HR managers trying to cost future training provision.
There are already murmurs that these caps could be well below current standards, meaning firms with a payroll of more than £3m could have to foot the extra costs. The result could make training apprentices from April 2017 look less and less appealing.
The decision of whether to stick or twist on the apprenticeship levy falls to the DfE’s new apprentices and skills minister, Robert Halfon.
He could stick with the plan, publish the details asap but consequently risk leaving firms insufficient time to get their ducks in a row – a timeframe made all the tighter by parliament’s six-week summer recess.
Or he could twist by publishing the details but delaying the levy by a year, giving companies more time to adjust to what will be significant changes.
With the stakes so high and a new Cabinet keen not to go back on any manifesto claims, the politically risky but perhaps more sensible option to twist might be off the cards.
… Oh, and in other news, there is still no construction minister.
The ongoing saga with the Thames Garden Bridge continues. Now construction will be delayed until the autumn, with the developer blaming “some hold-ups”.
In other London river crossing news, some of the UK’s biggest construction firms are teaming up to bid for the new £1bn Silvertown Tunnel project in east London.
Brexit has hit one of the UK’s biggest housing developments after Capco shaves 14 per cent off the value of its Earls Court project, following the UK’s vote to leave.
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