What’s going on with construction apprenticeships?

What’s going on with construction apprenticeships?

30th January 2023 | Fiona Gamwell

Covid saw the introduction of the Government’s Plan for Jobs and incentives of up to £3,000 to encourage firms to take on apprentices. This huge incentive was designed to help kickstart the UK economy during and following the pandemic impact.

Incentivising employers to take on apprentices, with support of up to £4,000 between August 2020 and January 2022, was promoted as a way to increase the number of apprentice starts. But did it work?

Reviewing the latest education statistics figures for apprentice starts, it does seem the incentive may have worked. Considering the impact Covid had on many business sectors, the number of apprentice starts increased from 301,140 in 2019/20 to 303,790 in 2020/21.  

But what about construction, a key worker industry that continued to work throughout the pandemic? Over the same period, the number of starts for construction apprentices reduced by 12 per cent from 24,290 to 21,290.

In fact, apprentice starts have been declining since they peaked at 31,710 in 2015/16. A reduction of more than 10,000 in an industry that has an aging population and a well-publicised skills shortage.

So, what are the issues facing apprenticeships in construction?

  • Lack of trainers and end point assessors – Salaries for trainers/assessors are so low compared to freelance rates that the trades can earn (see our Construction Pay Trends for more details). A current advert for Trainer/Assessor – Brickwork is showing a salary of up to £31,250 for 37 hours per week, compared to £877 per week (more than £45k per annum) as a freelance bricklayer.
  • Limited course availability – In our local area I know of six firms that want a plumbing apprentice. They have found suitable recruits, but they can’t get a training provider. The closest one being over 70 miles away. This then leads onto:
  • Transport and infrastructure – As a 16-year-old apprentice you are reliant on public transport, they would need to take a six-hour round journey to get to college – it just doesn’t work outside of major conurbations.
  • Burdensome paperwork – Small companies are still being put off hiring people through apprenticeships due to the administrative burden that gets placed on them. One firm said to me, “I will show them what to do instead”.
  • Lack of signposting and assistance – Many firms are still not aware of the different training offerings that are available to them; day release, block release, at employers' workplace. Things have changed since they were apprentices, but it isn’t being communicated very well.

I am sure these issues are facing other sectors too, but construction has a history of apprenticeships being the best way into the industry. The first issue above was also raised at the recent Cross-Industry Construction Apprenticeship Task Force (CCATF) meeting I attended in London in January as part of Hudson’s ongoing commitment to encouraging apprenticeships in construction.  

An idea was suggested to work with construction charities to encourage those that can no longer work in the industry to pass on their knowledge and skills through training and assessing. Likewise, I think we also need to look at a more flexible approach to trainers and assessors' roles.  

Freelancers in the industry could facilitate a role part-time, leaving the administration side of tutoring to the training provider, and allowing the freelancer to continue working their trade. This would remove the all-or-nothing approach unless training providers are willing to pay the going freelancer rates.

And don’t forget, in construction we also have a training board with the stated aim to work with industry to encourage training. Perhaps the CITB needs to also focus on encouraging people into training the next generation too.

* Fiona is Communications Officer and Apprentice Ambassador at Hudson Contract and well known to many of our clients for helping them to navigate the complexities of the skills and training system.

Contact person

To speak to one of our team, call us on 01262 401040

Our experts are on hand to answer your questions and help get you the best solution.
Or request a callback and one of our team will be in touch at a time that suits you.

Request a callback

Please select your role and fill in your details and we'll get you the right person to call you: