The government is expected to announce plans to boost training and apprenticeships this week as part of Covid-19 economic recovery package.
Whether it is enough, only time will tell, but the Unite trades union says that success of the prime minister’s ‘build, build, build' plan is at stake.
Unite said that `build, build, build' would not get very far without action to avert a crisis in skills and apprenticeship development.
The union says that a combination of employers' long-standing reluctance to invest in apprentices, allied to widespread redundancies because of the pandemic and a reluctance to recruit due to the economic uncertainty, is likely to result in there being 20,000 fewer apprentices across the construction sector in England this autumn, down from the 47,284 last year (2019).
The union said that at least 50% electrical construction apprentices are currently furloughed, with growing concerns that as the job retention scheme winds down they will be made redundant.
Unite has written to chancellor Rishi Sunak requesting that he “implement without delay economic policies that can help save existing construction apprenticeship jobs and ensure the summer 2020 intake of construction apprentices is of a level to meet the industry’s future needs”.
Unite has asked for:
- The extension of apprentice wage support
- repurposing of the apprenticeship levy funds to fund all first year apprentices’ pay
- public sector procurement policies that ensure the recruitment of apprentices
- the extension of the job guarantee scheme so that apprentice opportunities are delivered in public-funded infrastructure projects.
Home-grown training programmes for young people in construction have become more important since ready access to imported labour has ended.
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The prime minister's pledge to build, build, build the country's way out of this pandemic-caused crisis won't get very far without a workforce.
“Construction apprenticeship training is in danger of collapsing as an after-effect of the pandemic, which is why we're calling on the chancellor to make it clear when he announces his plans for recovering the economy this coming week that our young workers will be given a chance of a career in construction.
“At the moment, for every one good quality apprenticeship, there are one thousand applicants. Young workers have to scale this huge mountain so it is only right that they have the chance to complete their apprenticeship and have a job at the end of their training.
"Furthermore, without these young skilled workers the industry will struggle to recover from the recession as contracts will be cancelled because there is a serious lack of expert workers.
“There has been a long-term skills and training crisis in the construction sector but the Covid-19 pandemic along with the changes to immigration law have brought this to a head.
“Unite is working closely with responsible employers and trade associations in order to tackle the challenges on apprentice recruitment but to really conquer the challenges we face, the government must step in to support existing apprentices and ensure that new recruits will have a pathway into construction employment.”