Last edited 23 Mar 2022

Construction apprenticeships


[edit] Introduction

Apprenticeships are a form of training designed with employers that combine practical work in a job and studying. They can be useful for employers developing new employees skills, education and experience. Employers may work in partnership with a training provider to deliver an apprenticeship programme.

The glossary of statistical terms, published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), defines apprentices as: ‘…all employees who do not participate fully in the production process of the unit because they are working under an apprentice's contract or because the fact that they are undertaking vocational training impinges significantly on their productivity.’

Apprenticeships can help apprentices develop experience, gain job-specific skills and obtain a formal qualification whilst at the same time earning a wage. There are many different forms of apprenticeship, but typically, they will take 1 to 4 years and will involve studying one day a week.

Apprenticeships might include:

The government defines the levels of apprenticeship as:

  • Intermediate - equivalent to 5 GCSE passes.
  • Advanced - equivalent to 2 A level passes.
  • Higher - can lead to NVQ Level 4 and above, or a foundation degree.

(Ref. - Become an apprentice.)

In the construction industry, apprenticeships are a vital part of developing a skilled workforce. Apprenticeships are available in areas such as; building, civil engineering, construction management, electrical servicing, surveying, heating and plumbing, and so on as well as specialist apprenticeships such as scaffolding, plastering, roofing, kitchen and bathroom fitting and so on.

Organisations such as the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) provide a range of apprenticeship schemes, including:

[edit] Uptake and reform

In October 2013 the government announced reforms to apprenticeships to make them more rigorous and responsive to the needs of employers.

According to government statistics, 2.2 million apprenticeships were created between 2010, and 2015. 7 out of 10 employers found apprenticeships useful to their business and apprenticeships were proven to increase the earnings of those who undertake them.

However, In June 2015, the Independent reported that detailed analysis of government figures revealed in a parliamentary answer to Diana Johnson, the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, showed there had been a sharp drop in the number of construction apprenticeships. In 2009-10 there were 16,890 apprentices in construction, planning and built environment, but just four years later there were just 8,000. (Ref. Thousands of apprenticeships lost in key industries including construction and IT.)

Federation of Master Builders (FMB) chief executive Brian Berry said “The government’s target of three million additional apprenticeships over the coming five years is suitably ambitious but reforms are required to ensure that these are actually delivered. As construction accounts for around 7% of GDP, it means our sector should be responsible for around 210,000 of these apprenticeships, which equates to 42,000 a year over the next parliament. Given that the industry only achieved 16,000 in 2013/2014, there is a lot of work to be done.”

In June 2018, new, higher-quality apprenticeships for bricklayers and plasterers were signed off by the Government. Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) said; “These higher quality construction apprenticeships have the potential to help solve the construction skills crisis... The apprenticeships are longer in duration and cover a broader range of knowledge and hand-skills. This not only benefits the employers but also the apprentices who will be arming themselves with a wider range of skills for their future careers.”

On 14 June 2015, Skills Minister Nick Boles MP, announced that provisions would be made for apprenticeships to be given equal legal status as degrees, with the term ‘apprenticeship’ protected in law, giving government the power to take action when the term is misused to promote low quality courses. (Ref. BIS Government kick-starts plans to reach 3 million apprenticeships.)

In August 2015, the government launched a consultation process for a new apprenticeships levy to apply to the construction industry. This, it was thought, may threaten the continued role of the CITB. See Apprenticeships levy for more information.

In March 2017, the RIBA announced that an ‘Architecture Trailblazer’ group of practices had won approval from the Department for Education (DfE) for apprenticeship schemes for for two apprenticeship routes:

  • Architectural Assistant: A level 6 qualification equivalent to Part 1, taking four years, with 20% academic training and a degree being awarded upon completion.
  • Architect: A level 7 qualification taking four years (beyond Level 6/Part 1), with 20% academic training and no further studies required for registration.

The scheme was due to start in 2019, funded by a levy on employers with an annual payroll of more than £3m.

[edit] NAO report into the apprenticeships programme

In March 2019, during National Apprenticeship Week, the National Audit Office (NAO) published ‘The apprenticeships programme’, assessing whether the apprenticeships levy programme provides value for money.

It found that the programme has shifted its focus towards delivering quality and meeting employers’ needs and that it has a better, more holistic approach to assessing its benefits. However, employers have only made limited use of the available funds to support new apprenticeships, and there has been a large drop in apprenticeship starts. It also reported a risk that the programme is simply subsidising training that would have happened anyway.

In addition, the NAO expressed concern about the long-term sustainability of the programme. Spending is driven by employers’ decisions about how many and what types of apprenticeships they want. This leaves the programme exposed to the risk that the budget may be insufficient. The government would then need to choose between providing more funding, restricting growth, or reducing the funding for some apprenticeships.


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