Apprenticeships aren’t a new idea in the construction industry. In fact, the concept dates back to the Middle Ages, when master craftsmen would take on young apprentices in skilled trades like masonry and engineering.
The first national apprenticeship system in England was actually set up in 1563 – in the Statute of Artificers, passed when the first Queen Elizabeth was on the throne.
Fast forward to 2021, and apprenticeships are arguably more important than ever. The UK’s construction industry is at the heart of government’s plans to build back better, but we’re facing a significant skills shortage. And on the other hand, there are plenty of talented candidates struggling to find work as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In honour of National Apprenticeship Week, here’s why apprenticeships are a win-win for construction in 2021.
Tackling the talent shortage
The construction industry has long been facing a talent shortage. Even before Covid-19, it was estimated that we needed to attract 400,000 new recruits each year to meet the UK’s infrastructure needs. The end of the free movement of people from the EU has further limited access to skilled talent, which was especially important in areas like London.
One in three current construction employees are over 50 – and as a result there is predicted to be a 20-25% decline in the available workforce over the next decade. Every firm is likely to run into challenges finding workers. That means it’s incredibly important that we can attract new talent to the industry, and particularly younger candidates, to fill these gaps.
“Wessex Water is proud of our history with apprentices. We offer apprenticeship roles from level 2 through to degree level. We know that new talent is the key to our sustainable future. Our digital engineering team is introducing their first Higher Level Apprenticeship this year, as we see apprentices as fundamental to our skills growth.” – Becca Thurston, Early Careers Manager, Wessex Water
The power of apprenticeships
But why are apprenticeships the best way forward? Because they benefit everyone. For candidates, it’s an opportunity to learn truly valuable skills, without incurring thousands of pounds of student debts.
For employers, it’s a chance to train up employees in the competencies that are really needed – combining technical knowledge with collaboration and team work, which are equally important as you enter a new industry. And if you’re a larger company and already required to pay the apprenticeship levy, it makes sense to ensure you’re benefitting from the scheme too.
Importantly, apprenticeships can also open opportunities up to groups underrepresented in construction, including women, people from BAME backgrounds and many more. This enables businesses to benefit from the broadest range of talent out there, filling vacancies and creating more diverse and stronger teams.
“At Curtins, it’s part of our DNA that we have historically invested in developing our talent of the future with apprenticeships being an excellent mechanism to grow the future workforce, providing employment opportunities for all across our 14 UK-based offices. Proudly, we currently have 10 apprentices studying qualifications from Level 3 to Level 6 (degree equivalent) ranging from Civil Engineering, Business Support and IT. We also support apprentices on the job technical training with providers such as Autodesk to accelerate software and delivery competency.
The value apprenticeships deliver to a business includes not only upskilling new staff but also providing opportunities to re-skill the existing workforce allowing businesses to become more agile and strategic in their future skills planning.” – Rebecca King, Head of Learning and Development, Curtins
Driving digital construction
Apprenticeships are also an important way of meeting the new needs of the construction industry – by strengthening digital skills. The past year has proven beyond question the importance of digital tools for keeping projects operational and increasing productivity.
The government’s Construction Playbook has also set out the need for more technology to be embedded into public sector projects, so employees that are confident and comfortable using digital tools will be critical for firms’ futures.
Apprenticeships are one way of bringing younger digitally native people, who have grown up with technology, into the industry. These employees are often excited to use technology at work – and can help with the adoption of new tools from connected procurement to digital on-site information-sharing.
Apprenticeships can also enable candidates to gain advanced skills, such as using Building Information Modelling (BIM). At Autodesk, we’ve worked with the National College for Advanced Transport and Infrastructure for several years, providing access to BIM 360 for staff and students – including many apprentices.
More recently, we’ve been involved in developing the Level 4 Apprenticeship in Information Management, which will be launched in 2021. All of this will help to create a pipeline of highly skilled candidates, ready to use the latest construction technology and keep the industry evolving.
“Apprentices are often young, inquisitive staff members who have often challenged the traditional ways in which we work. Showcasing the benefits of using technology in both the design and construction stages, this has led to efficiencies for the team as a whole and has allowed the apprentices to showcase the real benefits technology can bring to our industry. Their ability to adapt the use of technology during the global pandemic has been paramount in allowing us to carry out day to day duties.” – Andy Magee, Senior Engineer, Leeds City Council
A win-win for the future of construction
Apprenticeships are an excellent way to attract the exciting talent that the construction industry needs – whether it’s the next generation of employees or people who are simply new to the sector.
We’ll need this talent if the construction industry is to play its role in helping the country and economy recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Through apprenticeships, we can also help to increase digital skills across the construction workforce, so that we’re ready to take advantage of the latest technology and create safer, more productive and more profitable firms.
So, whether you’re an employer or a candidate, 2021 is the year to embrace apprenticeships.
Read more about why digital technologies are key to supporting the UK government’s National Infrastructure Strategy in 2021