Labour’s pledge to guarantee apprenticeships for school-leavers who “get the grades” overlooks the importance of trade apprenticeships, a leading construction chief executive has told Construction News.
Ed Miliband announced this week that a Labour government would guarantee apprenticeships for 18-year-olds who meet a minimum academic standard.
Labour said it would create up to 100,000 apprenticeships in the next parliament by requiring companies on major government contracts to provide them, including firms benefiting from £100bn of planned infrastructure investment.
It would also explore whether the requirement should apply when the government underwrites large projects, such as Hinkley Point C.
But Bam Nuttall chief executive Steve Fox told Construction News the proposals focused too much on diverting high achievers away from university to apprenticeships, and that Mr Miliband had “forgotten the importance of trade apprenticeships”.
“[Politicians] seem to have forgotten about people who don’t have those academic achievements,” he said.
“What about encouraging people to get apprenticeships again for trade qualifications, which are what our industry is desperately lacking.”
“Had the minimum standard for an apprenticeship been Level 3 in 2013/14, the number of people successfully completing a construction apprenticeship would fall from 8,000 to just 2,000.”
Labour said the requirement placed on firms, along with other proposals it outlined this week, could create up to 100,000 new apprenticeships over the next parliament, including 33,000 apprenticeships on High Speed 2.
That compares with a target of 400 apprenticeships during the construction phase of the £15bn Crossrail project, which created its 400th apprenticeship in January.
Labour’s projections are believed to be based on the creation of one apprenticeship for every £1m spent through public procurement.
Mr Fox said HS2 provided a good opportunity to create more apprenticeships, but that contract value was “not the right criteria” on which to set requirements.
“You need to set apprenticeships [based] on numbers of people working, how long the contract is and what skills you need to put in there,” he said.
Construction News understands HS2 Ltd will begin negotiations with the industry over the number of training opportunities successful contractors would be expected to provide when it goes out to tender for £10bn-worth of civils contracts this summer, after May’s general election.
Labour would also raise the minimum standard for apprenticeships to national vocational qualification Level 3, introducing a new “universal gold standard” for apprenticeships.
In 2013/14, just 25 per cent of 8,020 construction apprenticeship completions were Level 3 or above, while the remaining 75 per cent were Level 2 qualifications and would not meet Labour’s criteria.
Under its proposals, Level 2 apprenticeships would continue but be renamed to protect the apprenticeships gold standard.
CITB policy and strategic planning director Steve Radley told Construction News there was a danger that renaming Level 2 qualifications could “reduce the attraction of apprenticeships at a time when it’s already hard to compete with other routes, such as going to higher education”.