Work-based learning is vital for a sustainable future - Ashfield Building Group

Joel Ramsden, Director at Ashfield Building Group, explains how a proactive and collaborative approach to training can help to address one of the biggest issues facing the construction industry.

A skills shortage in construction has been widely reported as the sector continues to face a range of challenges. Amid the unfolding turmoil of Brexit, the availability of migrant EU workers remains uncertain and an ageing UK workforce is not being replaced by a sufficient influx of young successors.

A 2018 survey by the Federation of Master Builders found that 44% of SME housebuilders consider a shortage of skilled workers to be a major barrier to their ability to build more new homes. Research from City & Guilds Group showed that one in 20 construction companies believe their workforce doesn’t have the necessary skills for now or the future. It found that the number of younger professionals in construction has dropped to a third of 2005 levels and that just over half of employers provide training – which is predominantly concerned with health and safety.

That’s a telling statistic. In our opinion, it is vital for businesses to adopt a more proactive approach and a great deal more than half of the employers need to rise to the challenge. Rather than expecting the workforce to arrive ready-skilled, construction companies must reach out and offer their own knowledge bank as a learning resource for prospective employees. In doing so, they can nurture the skills necessary for their business and present construction as a sector where young people can develop a rewarding and fulfilling long-term career.

In order to achieve this, the industry needs to form an effective collaboration with specialist training providers. Without a doubt, apprenticeships are integral to this model. The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy – paid by companies with a payroll of over £3 million – has prompted some businesses to abandon or reduce their commitment to apprenticeships. However, many seem to overlook the fact that the Levy provides access to a range of expert training resources within a Digital Apprenticeship Service (DAS) account. In utilising the DAS, employers can gain a valuable return on their investment through ongoing learning programmes organised by approved training and assessment providers.

With support and encouragement, apprentices can become loyal employees who are steeped in a company’s values and have the potential to become future management. Finding and recruiting talented people at more senior levels is often time-consuming and costly, so there is every incentive for employers to achieve higher staff retention through apprenticeships that map out an attractive career pathway.

According to the Construction Industry Training Board, 90% of those who complete an apprenticeship stay in the industry. That is certainly cause for optimism – if companies show a willingness to invest in attracting, welcoming and supporting more apprentices, it has the potential to deliver enormous benefits for the workforce of the future.

In November 2018, the Department for Education announced a £22m Construction Skills Fund which will bring training to construction sites and allow learners to apply their knowledge in a real-world environment. With funding for 26 training hubs, it will help bridge the gap between training and working in the industry.

The initiative aims to make a positive impact through cooperation across the education, business and learning communities. We believe there is much to be gained by embracing this kind of approach in all its forms.  Ashfield is currently seeking to recruit the next generation of construction professionals to support our ongoing expansion and we have been building relationships with regional learning providers. Most recently Ashfield attended the School of Built Environment & Engineering’s Careers Fair at Leeds Beckett University. Events like these provide an excellent opportunity to establish connections with the people who represent the future of the industry.

The Home Builders Federation noted that the government’s ambition to build 300,000 new homes per year has stretched the available labour force to its limit. To address this issue, we must attract young people with the opportunity to develop their skills through work-based learning. Housebuilders, contractors and developers have a big role to play in making that proposition possible.