Improve apprenticeships to plug the labour gap

Julie White is managing director of D-Drill & Sawing and chair of Build UK

I have always been a huge advocate of apprentices, so National Apprenticeship Week gets my full backing every year.

It’s in my blood, you see.

More than 40 years ago, my dad, Peter White – who ran D-Drill before me – saw that there wasn’t an apprenticeship programme for the diamond drilling and concrete sawing sector in the UK.

He would travel abroad through his connections with the world association for our industry and see the likes of the US offering a training programme to those entering the sector.

“Improving the journey from education to employment in our industry is crucial”

But there wasn’t anything similar in this country. So, dad rallied the industry here, made sure it was ‘recognised’ as a trade, and the UK Drilling & Sawing Association (DSA) was formed.

Dad and his colleagues at the DSA set up a training facility in Nottingham to help train the next generation of drillers and concrete sawyers, giving them the opportunity to achieve a qualification too.

The ‘Diamond Zone’ is still going strong today (we’re ahead of the world now) and we, alongside many other companies in our trade, send all our apprentices there to be trained. It has great support from the industry, with equipment manufacturers offering their products to be used by the apprentices and plenty of concrete available to practise on too.

The apprenticeship has a variety of modules and once completed the apprentices emerge site-ready with an NVQ Level 2.

About a decade ago, I completed the programme myself because I wanted to see exactly what it entailed and it gave me a real insight into how we train the next generation.

I am proud that my dad was a visionary when it came to apprenticeships and I think that’s one of the reasons I am so keen to carry the baton and build on what he started.

National Apprenticeship Week is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate what is great about apprentices, but also to continue to strive to make improvements where we can.

Like so many other industries, we are all working hard to bring through the next generation of talent and show that our industry is the one for them.

Build UK’s latest report highlights that we need to recruit almost 50,000 new entrants into construction each year to maintain output at its current level.

Therefore, improving the journey from education to employment in our industry is crucial.

Retaining after training

According to the Construction Industry Training Board, we’ll need to double the number of apprentices to meet demand unless retention and achievement rates improve.

This is a key issue.

We spend a huge amount of time and effort – rightly so – recruiting apprentices into the industry, but there is more to be done when it comes to retaining those people who have chosen construction but, for whatever reason, fall out of the industry.

So it can’t be just a case of getting them in and teaching them the trade. We have to offer them jobs and show off the industry while they are undertaking their apprenticeships.

Many Build UK member are focused on showing our apprentices the career pathway they can embark on with us from NVQ Level 2 and 3 all the way through to NVQ Levels 6 and 7 if they want.

And it is working: the Build UK report shows that the average completion rate for apprenticeships delivered by its members is 85 per cent, which is significantly higher than the target of 67 per cent set by the government for all apprenticeships by 2025.

But there is more to be done. We need to improve how we share information – doing everything we can to keep people in the industry, even if they decide individual businesses are not right for them.

If someone has found that an apprenticeship in one area of construction is a good fit in the first place and then have a change of heart, it’s possible they are not aware of the other areas of the industry they might be able to pursue.

To me, this is what is so rewarding about National Apprenticeship Week. We can celebrate everything that is great about bringing through young people but also reignite the debate about how we make it even better.

Everyone in the industry can play their part in recruiting the next generation by getting involved with Open Doors, which is being delivered by Build UK from 18-23 March. By encouraging a young person to book a visit and see first-hand what it is like to work in construction, you might just inspire them to join us.

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