The construction industry has made significant progress in its attempts to close its skills gap by positioning itself as a career of choice for young people. It has generated widespread public interest and is attracting high-quality people.
More school-leavers are applying for full-time college construction courses, but they also need to get practical experience.
However, many employers in the sector are small firms or specialist sub-contractors, who, on their own, can’t offer apprentices the full range of work experience needed to achieve NVQ Level 2.
ConstructionSkills, the skills council for the construction industry, has developed a complementary apprenticeship scheme, programme-led apprenticeships (PLAs), to help new entrants get the right mix of knowledge and practical skills.
Apprentices spend between one and two years full-time on a construction-based college course. They then go through a continuous, full-time placement of nine to 12 months with an employer to complete the full apprenticeship framework.
There are programme-led apprenticeships available in carpentry and joinery, bricklaying and painting and decorating.
Before they start their work placement, programme-led apprentices must have completed an Intermediate Construction Award – which includes a health and safety test Ð and must demonstrate an awareness of employment rights and responsibilities.
Employers then appoint someone in-house to help the apprentice work towards an NVQ Level 2 qualification while on site.
ConstructionSkills works with colleges to identify suitable students to join the scheme and ensure they are work-ready to start on site. Employers then choose apprentices from a pool of pre-screened applicants, picking the ones that suit them best.
Before a programme-led apprentice joins an employer, ConstructionSkills checks the company can provide the scope of work necessary to achieve an NVQ Level 2. Some or all of the apprenticeÍs work experience may be with smaller firms working as sub-contractors on a range of the sponsoring employerÍs projects.
Programme-led apprentices arrive on site with technical knowledge and practical ability – they just need supervised experience to enable them to do the job. They also offer employers the chance to have apprentices on site five days a week.
ConstructionSkills gives employers a £2,000 contribution towards costs – half paid 30 days after the apprentices start work, and the rest when they complete their NVQ Level 2 framework.
ConstructionSkills wants more big employers to offer apprentices on-site experience through their supply chain of sub-contractors. To that end, it is working closely with the Major Home Builders Group (MHBG) and the Major Contractors Group (MCG).
Members of the MHBG have agreed to offer on-site experience in their own companies and through the group’s supply chain of sub-contractors.
More trades may be brought into the scheme during the next 12 months. Long-term, programme-led apprenticeships have the potential to attract a more diverse range of new entrants into construction.
1 The Sector Skills Agreement (SSA) for the construction industry aims for a threefold increase in the number of small and medium-sized employers investing in training.
2 ConstructionSkills wants to encourage more sub-contractors and self-employed people to take on apprentices. The PLA is a chance for smaller employers to give apprentices work experience on different types of project.
3 The SSA has a target of 13,000 apprenticeship completions a year, and 1,000 programme-led apprentices to be placed on site during 2007.
Employer and employee views
“Our apprentice was a good investment for the company. ConstructionSkills has been very supportive, and if we have any questions, we can call it and receive help and advice.”
Linda Hutton, company secretary, GI Hutton Builders
“College was good because it gave me an insight into the industry. I was also able to learn basic skills before I went on site, which was useful. The placement has been very challenging and there’s a lot to learn because I’m using new machinery, but I have really enjoyed it and feel I’ve learned a lot.”
Carpentry programme-led apprentice James Burrows, who attended Leeds College of Building and did his placement with local construction company CJ Ellmore
“I would definitely recommend the programme-led apprenticeship as a good way to begin a career. There is so much variety, and working at different locations means that there is always something new. Going to college first meant that I was able to gain confidence and some qualifications, but I have really enjoyed my time working hands-on and being part of a team.”
Painting and decorating programme-led apprentice Sheryl Prior, who attended Bexley College and did her work placement with CTG Construction Company