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Apprenticeship 'postcode lottery' targeted by £5m skills scheme

Exclusive: CITB-ConstructionSkills will today launch a new £5 million-a-year initiative to enable apprentices to transfer across local projects, rather than being stranded when their employer completes work.

The Shared Apprenticeship Scheme aims to work with strategic partners to help apprentices complete their frameworks on different local projects.

Many local authorities require contractors to take apprentices from local communities to meet central government targets.

When contracts are completed, apprentices can be made redundant even when the contractor they were signed up with continues work on projects outside local authority boundaries.

CITB-ConstructionSkills head of employer services Steve Hearty told CN that given a “depressed market base” with tight training budgets, “regional stakeholders aren’t developing their skills in their locality and young people are missing out on opportunities”.

He added: “It can be quite difficult as an employer moving from scheme A, being told to recruit an apprentice and then three months later they move to scheme B and are told to recruit another. It’s a model that can only go so far.”

Apprenticeships in construction declined by 18 per cent this year, with just 12,840 beginning in 2011/2012.

The scheme has been trialled in Lancashire, Merseyside and Wales and will link up those in charge of procurement, such as local authorities and housing associations, with employers, the supply chain and CITB-ConstructionSkills to analyse future skills requirements.

Regions currently confirmed include London, Merseyside, east Lancashire, Yorkshire and Humber, the South-east and the South of England.

“What we’re looking to do is select skills today that may be required in the future in that region,” Mr Hearty continued.

“We will examine and explore what’s in that schedule of works, and through that we’ll do a skills overlay.

“Then we engage with employers because we want them on the board as well. We want to know what markets they’re looking to move into.

“We bring employers and their supply chain to that table.”

Mr Hearty added that the trials had been “very, very successful”, and that “this isn’t a volume game; we see this as a long-term investment”.

When the SAS is fully up and running, it will make a £5m annual contribution to the apprenticeship schemes, and may include multiskill options aimed at delivering the Green Deal.

Costain training manager Jon Spencer recently became chairman of the UKCG training committee and supported the logic behind the move.

“Recession has affected the take-up of training,” he said.

“With reduced work opportunities, employers are left with reduced margins and regretfully training is one of the first things to go.”

He told CN the “postcode lottery” of apprenticeships was a major problem, with local authorities “concerned with contractors leaving a legacy”.

“Often we already have existing apprentices and we need to make sure we transfer those people in,” he said.

But he added that there were alternative methods to persuade local authorities to be more flexible with their apprenticeship intake.

“We provide as much support as we can – there’s a number of routes and I don’t think there’s a single solution that fits all,” he said.

“If one can engage in dialogue with local authorities and local clients, we can often find a way around their initial reluctance to accept an apprentice that’s come from elsewhere.”

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