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23rd May 2019


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How increasing the number of apprenticeships in the building trade could solve more than one problem

* Carol-Kavanagh.jpgBy Carol Kavanagh, Group Human Resources Director, the Travis Perkins Group

With the UK housing market finally showing signs of recovery, demand for building work is also on the rise. Property prices climbed up by 8% in the year to the end of March to reach their highest price post-recession, and the prognosis for the upcoming months is also positive.

Huge numbers of homeowners are either looking to upgrade homes they intend to sell or renovate recent purchases, while developers are building new housing stock or refurbishing old structures. This is definitely good news for those in the construction and building trade, but recent research indicates that the industry as a whole doesn't have the capacity to meet this demand.

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) estimates that as many as 182,000 new jobs will need to be filled between 2014 and 2018 to fulfil the requirements of the market. At first glance this seems to be good news, especially given soaring unemployment levels among young people, but a closer look at the issue reveals a deep-running problem. It is not just a demand for a workforce but a demand for a skilled workforce that has to be met, and a recent fall in the number of apprenticeships in the construction, housing and environmental build sector might render it a hard nut to crack.

In fact, only 14,000 apprenticeships were created in in 2012-3, (compared to 22,000 in 2010-11) meaning that fewer people were given a chance to learn the trade. Recent research by the Travis Perkins Group, moreover, has revealed that this skills shortage is being increasingly noticed by the industry's end customers: homeowners. Our research of over 1,000 UK homeowners highlighted wide-spread support for apprenticeship schemes, with 70% of UK homeowners believing that all building firms with a turnover of more than £500,000 should be legally required to take on at least one apprentice each year. The majority of respondents also thought that the government itself should back this push, with 55% saying the government should pay for a year's apprenticeship for young people (aged 19-24) that come into the building trade.

Filling the gap in supply of skilled construction workforce could provide an opportunity to tackle high unemployment levels - not only among the young. Almost half of polled homeowners (48%) would like the government to create a scheme enabling older people to re-train and enter the building trade. What's more, 64% believe that a special government programme should target the long-term unemployed, offering opportunities for training and help with searching for apprenticeship placements.

53% of homeowners questioned also maintained that the building trade is a high-skill, high-status profession, and should be promoted as such by the government to draw more people towards this career option.

At the Travis Perkins Group we recognise the importance of apprenticeship schemes for both the trade and the wider economy, as well as for our organisation itself. Our recently appointed CEO, John Carter, is among those who rose up the ladder through our own management apprenticeship scheme, which has a long history of providing the Group with a reliable stream of talented and well-trained staff. This year, more new apprentices than ever will be taken on board, with the General Merchanting Division planning to recruit 105 for its two-year programme (up from 40 in 2013 and 30 in 2012) and 33 further placements available.

Outside of our business, meeting the demand of homeowners and developers, as well as facilitating government fulfilment of pledges to provide new housing stock, both hinge on the existence of a well-trained, reliable workforce. This in turn is entirely dependent on the training options available, and so far apprenticeships prove to be the best way of passing on skills. The push for creating more placements, backed by private organisations and the government, seems the best option for connecting those out of work with those needing workforce through a reliable training system; and the homeowners across the UK already know it.


20th June 2014

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