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38

February 2015

Issue 35

INDUSTRY EYE

The troublewith apprentices

Are major contractors doing enough about apprenticeships? A recent Top 100

Apprenticeship Employers List seems to say they are not. Kristina Smith wonders why.

The headline was pretty damning:

“Only one of the UK’s biggest

contractors named in Top 100

Apprenticeship Employers List”.

Amey, which is more about

infrastructure services than

construction these days, was that

one contractor named.

The simple reason could be that

few main contractors employ a

direct labour force. But surely there

are shining examples of big players

who are bringing more apprentices

into the industry?

The list in question is compiled

by the National Apprenticeship

Service, which is part of the

Government’s Skills Funding

Agency. It’s different each year,

because the 100 firms are chosen

from businesses which entered the

National Apprenticeship Awards

that year.

We know that there are firms who

are working hard in this area. The

Scheme website showcases some

of them

here

.

One of the big challenges in

taking on apprentices, as anyone

with direct experience will know,

is finding the right people, and

getting them to stick at it. BAM

Nuttall, which was on the Top 100

Apprenticeship Employers List in

2013, still struggles to find budding

tradespeople.

“It’s quite hard to fill the trade

apprentice places,” says BAM

Nuttall CEO Steve Fox. “We are

undersubscribed.” A big part of

the problem is the absence of

construction from careers advice at

schools, he adds.

However, there are signs that the

tide is turning. A spokesperson

for the CITB said that though only

8,030 apprentices in our sector

completed their courses in the

2013/14 academic year, down from

9,060 the previous year, numbers

were now rising.

“Although the downturn

had significant impact on

apprenticeship completions, the

number of new starts is now on

the up,” said the spokesman. “Our

Managing Agency is currently

experiencing increasing take-up

of apprenticeships – up over 20

percent overall.”

BAM Nuttall – which has been

running its apprenticeship schemes

for decades – takes on technical

as well as trades apprentices.

Technical apprenticeships, in

contrast to the trades ones, are

over-subscribed with the contractor

taking on 36 a year from 500 or 600

applicants for the four-year course.

In total, the business has around

150 apprentices with technical

ones outnumbering trades ones by

two to one.

Running technical, or professional,

apprentices appears to be an

excellent approach. A few firms

already do it. More should follow

suit. “It gives us very practical,

well-rounded people with good

experience and no debt at the age

of 23,” says Fox. “It’s a good thing

to do. It’s not just right for our

business, it’s right for society.”