We are failing to meet apprenticeship targets in construction due to some ridiculous barriers that should simply be removed, says Jeremy Rabinovitch.

Apprentices are the lifeblood of the economy. These are people who want to work yet don’t want to spend years learning something without being guaranteed a job.

Apprenticeships can provide fantastic opportunities both from a financial and career progression point of view – not to mention filling the skills gaps of the future.

I work as a workplace coordinator in the construction sector and as such I am responsible for ensuring our developments have local labour and apprentices working on them.

However, local boroughs, especially in London, make it hard to ensure this happens.

Nowadays most councils insist that around a fifth of the workforce comes from within the boundary walls; in some boroughs, apprentices can only come from within that borough. We are limiting the success of the apprenticeships initiative by setting up boundaries where they are not necessary.

We need to use the people in the industry to promote it and get the next generation into apprenticeships

Here’s an example: the company I work for is developing a large hotel and the local borough has stipulated we need to employ around 20 apprentices during construction.

At first glance that may seem fairly reasonable, however there are conditions that can make this simple target unachievable in practice.

First, we are told that all apprentices must be living in the local borough: a fantastic aspiration, but by the borough’s own admission unrealistic, given there aren’t 20 people on their books interested in construction. In practice, this means out of two people who went to the same school and want to do the same job, one will be afforded fewer opportunities with our subcontractors because they live on the opposite side of the road to their friend, who lives within the boundary of the borough.

The second issue, and possibly the bigger, is the fact that many boroughs require evidence only of someone starting an apprenticeship to count towards a company’s targets.

This means if we have 20 apprenticeships to fill, we can have 20 young people who all leave after their first day, but these are counted as apprenticeships.

This is scandalous – it’s not even work experience. Yet if we place someone on site for two years, who completes an apprenticeship but lives in a different borough, this may not meet our target and we could be fined.

We have to change the way we approach apprenticeships. When the government is so determined to make apprenticeships a vital cog in the financial wheel of the country, why are such ridiculous rules allowed to exist?

Schools are yet another battlefront. I would love the chance to go into schools and promote the available opportunities but despite contacting as many schools as possible, I find it very difficult to get invited. It is easy to surmise from this that schools are more interested in promoting their own sixth form than considering what their students may actually want or benefit from.

More and more want to do apprenticeships but encouragement from schools and even parents is often sadly lacking

The young people get it. More and more want to do apprenticeships but encouragement from schools and even parents is often sadly lacking. So how do we get round this?

Unless attitudes in parents and schools change it’s not going to change and the government’s three-million target will have been just another pipe dream.

We have to work together. The CITB offers a shared apprenticeship programme, which is a fantastic way of helping apprentices acquire the relevant work experience by moving from site to site – bearing in mind subcontractors are there only for a small percentage of the actual development.

There are some good initiatives out there, but we have to do more. We need to use the people in the industry to promote it and get the next generation into apprenticeships before we lose them to the same tired revolving door that insists on sixth form then university.

Times are changing, so we have to move with them. Let’s get the boroughs and councils working together to make the practicalities more achievable and let’s get the schools to invite more companies and training providers in to talk not just to the pupils, but to teachers and parents as well.

 

Jeremy Rabinovitch is workplace co-ordinator at Tolent Construction Ltd