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Apprentices suffer in this free market

AGENDA COMMENT

THE APPRENTICE system isn't working - and neither are thousands of young trainees from this country, who are being shut out of an industry supposedly desperate for their skills.

Construction has often been accused of shortterm thinking and the current state of apprenticeships is a classic example. It must be bewildering for school-leavers to read about skills shortages in the booming building industry then discover that nobody actually wants to take them on.

The reason why apprentices can't get a place at most contractors is simple - money. Firms would rather take on fully qualified foreign workers than spend time training domestic youngsters.

That situation will continue while there is an eager f lood of tradesmen from Eastern Europe, so the Government needs to act to solve the apprenticeship crisis.

The Government is the industry's biggest client and wields enormous power. It could go a long way to easing the problem by demanding that contractors bidding for public work employ a minimum number of trainees.

Tax incentives for firms employing apprentices would also level the playing field.

Without state intervention the free market will reign and construction will continue to drink from the pool of cheap labour from overseas.

Foreign workers have been vital to fill the skills gap but they are not a limitless resource.

Contractors and the Government need to work together to guarantee a steady supply of domestic labour to replace an aging workforce.

A lot of effort has been put into making construction an attractive career choice for young people.

It would be a tragedy to continue slamming the door in the face of our future.