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SMEs still hiring apprentices despite the recession

Despite the recession, some firms still believe in the value of training and are not cutting back. By Lucy Handley

Since Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, announced that Britain was on the brink of recession last October, the construction industry has made 3,500 apprentices redundant.

Some of these have found other work in construction but it is not always easy with jobs which might be found scattered across the country.

But it is heartening to know that many SMEs are still recruiting apprentices and are not cutting back. Drylining contractor Astins will hire 40 a year and has spent £1 million on a training centre as CN reported last week. Restoration contractor Linford Group has about 27 apprentices which is 10 per cent of its workforce. And HT Forrest, a joinery and refurbishment specialist, has about 80 apprentices.

Tim Forrest, HT Forest’s chief executive, is keen for firms of all sizes to do more. He says: “There are a lot of national companies talking about their training programmes but how do they relate to turnover? I think the government should introduce a mandatory training level per £1m of their turnover. If we don’t see this type of commitment we will never solve the skills shortage.”

He suggests that main contractors should hire apprentices which then work for their subcontractors. If a subcontractor finishes a job, it should be up to the main contractor to allow the apprentices to work for another organisation.

“The new apprenticeship bill is hopefully going stipulate mandatory training figures for organisations working in the public sector. This will solve the skills shortage overnight,” he says.

Linford Group chief executive Simon Linford is realistic about the cost of apprenticeships. “You have to have a great belief in the value of training because in the short term commercially, it doesn’t really add up. You don’t get immediate payback from it,” he says. He adds that firms which don’t hire apprentices can price work more keenly than one that does.

And he is troubled that training requirements are often part of prequalification. “The clients or main contractors ask for evidence but they don’t always follow up that [training] is being done. We know some of our competitors say they do things but they don’t. That can be very frustrating, it’s very easy to say it,” he says.

But he is committed to training young people. “We had the debate on whether we should have the intake this year but have decided that we will advertise as normal, because not to do so will leave a gap which we may come to regret,” he says.

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