Shadow business secretary John Denham challenged skills minister John Hayes on current apprenticeship requirements on public works contracts and urged the government to do more to incentivise employers to take on an apprentice.
Labour’s ‘Jobs for Contracts’ plan requires companies to have apprenticeship schemes to qualify for government contracts.
In response, Mr Hayes highlighted his plans for an industry kite-mark scheme to allow government to identify employers that have skills and training opportunities such as apprenticeships. This could then be used as a criterion in contract award decisions. Mr Hayes said that SMEs could be unfairly penalised if it was mandatory for them to offer apprenticeships, as SMEs have less capacity to take trainees on.
Apprenticeship starts in construction were down by 12% in England last year, according to CITB-ConstructionSkills. This issue is being compounded by an ageing construction workforce – with recent research from the skills body showing that the number of workers in the construction industry aged 24 or under has dropped from one in five in 1990 to one in 10 today.
CITB-ConstructionSkills employer services director Mike Bialyj said that the announcements were “an important first step in addressing the vital role the public sector has to play in bringing talented new-blood into our industry to support the recovery”.
He added: “Construction will need 200,000 new recruits in the industry (43,000 a year) to support a 6.2% increase in growth in construction output by 2015. Unless we act now we will not have the right skills and knowledge in place for economic growth locally and nationally.
“There are a number of ways we are trying address the skills deficit caused by the recession. We will be paying out in excess of £300m in apprenticeship support grand funding to the construction industry over the next five years.
"We also have schemes such as our National Skills Academy’s for construction (NSAfC) projects that place apprentices on-site at flagship construction projects such as the regeneration of Kings Cross. We are also piloting Shared Apprenticeships schemes which let SMEs share trainees to create a sustainable more affordable opportunity for them.
“But most importantly, we want these new proposals to work in tandem with our client based approach, which we launched recently as guidance for national and local government to increase numbers of apprenticeships and leave a lasting skills-legacy for local communities.”
CITB-ConstructionSkills’ client based approach provides a framework for local authorities to work with employers to deliver more training and employment opportunities during procurement for their construction projects.