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Apprentices: The shift that will bolster construction's future

The recession left the construction industry with scant resources to invest in the recruitment and training of apprentices.

The ongoing skills shortage is making it increasingly difficult for firms of all sizes to find high-quality staff, and companies have been unable to finance the training and development work that would help turn raw recruits into future managers and directors.

As a result, apprenticeship schemes have become hard to come by for aspiring construction workers, particularly at larger firms where staff at trainee and apprentice level are often viewed as low-cost, short-term labour rather than an investment for the future.

Many of the surviving apprenticeship schemes are poorly implemented, with companies viewing the provision of opportunities for young people as a box-ticking exercise and a blocker to getting the job done.

Transformative potential

The industry as a whole needs this trend to be reversed. Apprenticeship schemes must be made a priority to transform the working culture at companies of all sizes and increase levels of staff loyalty and motivation – something incredibly difficult to achieve through traditional recruitment.

The government must do more to help companies deliver quality apprenticeships so firms can make the transition from simply employing people to becoming the creators of successful construction careers.

“Apprenticeship schemes must be made a priority, to transform the working culture at companies of all sizes and increase levels of staff loyalty and motivation”

The issue of training grants has become something of a political football, and it is difficult for anyone in construction to predict legislative changes that might make it more difficult to recover training costs.

Various levies on the industry are not helping the situation at the moment, and the industry is in danger of compromising its future if more is not done to reduce the cost of training and recruiting apprentices.

At a company level, firms must be brave and give young people access to the opportunities they deserve. Help is available through trade associations, and keen youngsters should not have to wait until they are 18 to access apprenticeships that continue their academic development and get their construction careers off to the very best possible start.

Strength of communication

It is vital firms recognise the value of apprenticeship schemes and their power to enrich people’s lives.

“The experience of being an apprentice is one that gets passed down through families, and we have gained enormous strength from the family connections found in our company”

Apprentices have been a major focus at Novus for the last 75 years and the success of our scheme is reflected at board level: all but one member of the company’s board of directors were teenagers when they joined the firm, and we all learned our trade through the Novus apprenticeship scheme.

The experience of being an apprentice is one that gets passed down through families, and we have gained enormous strength from the family connections that can be found in all areas of our company. Today companies can use social media to communicate with the families and guardians of their apprentices, ensuring young recruits are happy and safe at work.

Rather than aiming to simply upskill young people as quickly as possible, apprenticeships should help them grow and develop in all areas of their work.

Those of us who were apprentices ourselves remember being 16 or 17 years old, working alongside colleagues with 20 or 30 years of experience, and how much we learned from those people - we want to share that learning with future generations.

Stuart Seddon is the chairman of Novus

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