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Slump prompts apprentices overhaul

ConstructionSkills is to overhaul industry apprenticeships after 30 per cent fall in recruitment to programmes

ConstructionSkills is working on an overhaul of industry apprenticeships, with plans to dump its programme-led model and adopt a new scheme which would lower first-year costs for contractors and increase the on site experience of apprentices, Construction News can reveal.

The skills body said the new model, labelled Pathway to Construction, was being specifically designed to help companies in England retain apprentices during the recession. It said there was an “urgent need” for new initiatives, with data showing recruitment onto apprenticeship programmes has fallen by 30 per cent in the year to date.

But apprenticeship programme manager Nigel Donohue warned the model was still in its infancy and that funding was yet to be secured from the National Apprenticeship Service.

The proposal, seen by Construction News, would involve recruits spending between 10 and 16 weeks on site during their first year while completing as much as 75 per cent on their college work. In the second year the recruit would either have a block release or one day off each week to complete the remaining framework elements.

According to the proposal: “[Contractors] will be able to shape the PTC start… but will not have to pay them while at college. This route will provide a choice to the employer which minimises the financial risk to them while maximising the number of starts.”

The proposal document claimed the new model would also allow ConstructionSkills to more easily move any displaced apprentices into SME’s, because they would have had greater on-site experience and would require fewer days the site off for college.

Traditional apprenticeships would still be available to potential recruits, it said, but the new model “would allow for the phasing out of the current PLAs and replacing them with an alternative pathway which requires employer engagement from the very start”.

ConstructionSkills introduced programme-led apprenticeships into England in 2007.

Under the model, recruits complete a full-time college course before joining a contractor, requiring a shorter-term commitment from employers.

But the training body admitted: “With no clear employer engagement until completion of the college diploma elements, quite often the continuation of the apprenticeship has not happened.”

ConstructionSkills wants to pilot 100 PTC recruits in a single English region. After 12 months it would “take stock” of the results and, if successful, apply for further funding to roll out the model across the rest of England.

“This is very early on, though. We are still in the early stages of negotiations with Nas to secure initial funding,” Mr Donohue said.

In Wales, funding from the Assembly government has been secured to pilot 500 places under a similar model, Pathway to Apprenticeships. Mr Donohue said his team would be watching the results as it further develops the new model.

Construction union Ucatt has raised concerns, claiming it contractors could “simply use the model to comply with Government procurement rules”.

But Mr Donohue argued: “The grant is not loaded, so it is more attractive for them to actually see the apprentice finish.” ConstructionSkills has suggested a work placement grant of £65 a week during the first year.

Ucatt said it also wanted to see apprentices trained beyond NVQ level 2. But Mr Donohue said ConstructionSkills would be urging employers to up-skill apprentices to an NVQ 3 following completion of the framework.

UK Contractors Group is “very supportive” of the new proposal, director Stephen Ratcliffe said.

Year One

  • A “work placement” year, where the PTC start would have a contract of employment with the sponsoring employer
  • Recruits have a minimum 10-16 weeks on site
  • Work placements are of 2-4 weeks In November, February, June and August
  • Contractors get £65-a-week grant
  • End of year recruit has 75 per cent course work completed

Year Two

  • Apprentice is fully employed by contractor
  • Diploma is completed at college through either a block release, “to minimise downtime on site throughout the year”, or on day release. This would involve the apprentice working on site four days a week and then being released one day for training
  • By the end of year two, apprentice would be fully trained in a traditional occupational area

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