Deconstructing Miliband’s apprenticeship promise
The National Federation of Builders' CEO, Richard Beresford, questions if Labour’s plan will increase construction apprenticeships.
Ed Miliband has promised that a Labour government would create an additional 80,000 apprenticeship per year in England by the end of the next parliament. The Labour leader specified that school leavers achieving satisfactory marks would automatically qualify for high-quality apprenticeships. Additionally, Miliband said that Labour would require that companies bidding for large government contracts would be compelled to offer a certain number of apprenticeships. The Conservatives replied by highlighting that 2.1 million apprenticeships had been created over the past five years, reiterating the pledge that a Conservative majority government would create three million apprenticeships by 2020.
Apprenticeship starts have generally been increasing in every sector over the last four years, with the exception of the construction and the tourism industries. In 2013/2014, apprenticeship starts in the construction industry were just 15,890 in comparison to 20,550 in 2009/2010, a decline of 23%. What is unclear about Miliband’s pledge is how the construction industry might benefit from this policy. He is pitching this big idea to an industry that is currently awaiting the government’s second take on its apprenticeship funding reforms. The industry found the initial proposals would increase bureaucracy, require companies to negotiate training rates and control the funding and training of apprentices themselves, all of which would negatively affect cash flow, particularly for smaller companies.
Part of the industrial strategy for construction, Construction 2025, focuses on promoting careers within this sector to produce a diverse and skilled labour force. The NFB has been drawing attention to the need to promote careers in construction more strongly, particularly since more than 400,000 workers are expected to leave the industry over the next decade, either through retirement or people simply looking elsewhere for employment. More diversity in the workforce is also another priority of Construction 2025. According to the Construction Industry Training Board, women account for just 10% of the total construction workforce and only 11.6% of managers. As an industry, we need to be more coordinated in how construction career prospects are promoted, especially in schools, tackling the misconception associating this sector largely with manual labour and ignoring the wide range of professional, technical and managerial skills that are needed to shape our built environment.
Construction is a £100 billion industry, contributing significantly to the UK economy. Although plans for increasing apprenticeships are welcome news the devil, as always, is in the detail.
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