Reinventing apprenticeships in construction: a collective call to action

Ryan Mayor is the early careers development manager at Balfour Beatty

National Apprenticeship Week provides an opportunity for the construction and infrastructure industry to reflect on the importance of developing the next generation of skilled professionals.

“National Apprenticeship Week beckons us to go beyond celebration and actively engage in reshaping the landscape of apprenticeships”

As a member of the 5% Club – a dynamic movement of more than 950 organisations that aspire to have 5 per cent of their overall workforce in ‘earn and learn’ positions – we truly believe that apprenticeships are the cornerstone of the sector and provide a unique opportunity to get hands-on, while also providing promising career trajectories.

However, there are still several challenges we must address if we are to attract new people into our industry. Outdated perceptions of the construction industry, continued focus on completion levels, inflexibility regarding levy spend, and having the pipeline of schemes for apprentices to work on for the full length of their apprenticeship, remain key issues.

It’s essential to confront these challenges head-on and cultivate an environment where apprenticeships are accessible to individuals from all backgrounds, and create a more inclusive industry for all.

We must also challenge some of the outdated views of what a career in our industry offers – the construction industry is no longer about ‘muddy boots’, but provides a career where the most creative and innovative minds can thrive and flourish.

It’s also important to have the right frameworks and people in place to sustain and support our apprentices, from entry point to end-point assessment and beyond.

Levy inflexibility

We are seeing continued calls for reform to the skills levy. It’s a complex challenge – there needs to be a fine balance between giving organisations more control over how they choose to spend their levy while ensuring this doesn’t detract from the investment placed in the continued growth of apprenticeship opportunities.

It’s time to reassess the implementation of the Apprenticeship Levy and enact reforms to better align it with the evolving needs of employers. The levy’s inflexibility is a key issue, hindering its potential to adequately support the training of apprentices within the construction and infrastructure sectors. By addressing this, we can unlock the capacity to train a greater number of apprentices, driving growth and innovation across these vital industries.

To elevate our apprenticeship programmes, we must continually review what they offer, how we deliver them and ensure that they develop the skills needed at both an organisational and individual level. With digital technology, sustainability and social value – to name just a few – playing an increasingly important role in what and how we deliver, it’s important that we offer apprenticeship roles in these areas.

Collaboration is also key. By sharing best practice and pooling our knowledge and resources, we can create a more robust and comprehensive apprenticeship framework that benefits the entire industry.

Recently, Balfour Beatty hosted a construction industry discussion group alongside The Schools Outreach Company and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). The event served as a platform to share best practice and promote collaboration between industry stakeholders, educational institutions and training boards to enhance workforce development and address industry-related issues. By collaborating with educational and training institutions, the industry can work towards developing a skilled and competent workforce, ensuring a visible pipeline of talent for the future.

Early engagement with children is also vital. By visiting schools, conducting workshops and sharing presentations, we can change outdated perceptions about careers in construction, influence the narrative around apprenticeships, and highlight the wide range of opportunities available in the construction and infrastructure industry.

We must also encourage and empower existing apprentices to share their experiences with the younger generation of school leavers from their local communities. It’s this relatability that will help us break down some of the outdated perceptions around what apprenticeships can offer and who can benefit.

National Apprenticeship Week beckons us to go beyond celebration and actively engage in reshaping the landscape of apprenticeships in construction. As we navigate the successes and challenges, we must collectively commit to improving our apprenticeship programmes. By embracing innovation, fostering collaboration and engaging with students early, we can create an apprenticeship environment that not only meets current industry demands but also sets the stage for the future.

The call-to-action echoes loud and clear: let’s build an apprenticeship system that attracts, nurtures and empowers the next generation. It’s a shared responsibility that holds the key to a vibrant and skilled construction workforce for years to come.

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