While the building trade is a big employer of apprentices, the wider construction industry suffers skills gaps elsewhere. But Laing O’Rourke has teamed up with FE and skills bodies, including a number of colleges, to boost the development of industry-needed skills, explains Alison Lamplough.

he construction industry is a major UK employer and, as well as being one of our essential sectors, it has also been a major exporter for nearly a century.

Yet the industry is facing up to a ticking time bomb — caused by a skills shortage and an ageing workforce.

Apprenticeships have long played a part in the building sector of the construction industry.

But on the civil engineering side, the demand and attractiveness of formal apprenticeships has not been strong.

Coupling this with the demographic timebomb of an aging workforce means unless urgent action is taken, the problem of a skills gap is about to hit home.

It is anticipated that over the next decade the UK will see an increase in investment in major civil engineering infrastructure development.

Projects such as Crossrail have already shown we have skill gaps in areas such as tunnelling and civil engineering specific trades.

Unless the skills gap in the workforce is addressed, UK contractors will have to look to Europe to meet the skill requirements.

In the past, the industry has used major projects such as Terminal 5 at Heathrow and the London Olympics as catalysts for improving skills.

Laing O’Rourke, as a direct employer, is fully aware of these skill gaps.

Unless the skills gap in the workforce is addressed, UK contractors will have to look to Europe to meet the skill requirements

Last year, the company won funding from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, under the Employer Ownership Pilot, to develop a new level two apprenticeship for steelfixing — identified nationally as one of the gaps in core skills.

Laing O’Rourke selected a group of colleges to deliver the formal training component. These were Bridgwater College, Gateshead College and the National Construction College.

After a full tendering process the company appointed awarding organisation NOCN to support the development of the qualification. Its managing director, Graham Hasting-Evans, is on the UK National Steering Committee for the Build Up Skills programme, a UK initiative backed by the European Commission which aims to support closing the training and skills gap in the UK workforce to enable it to meet the EU 2020 energy efficiency targets.

In February 2013, at NOCN’s offices in London, Laing O’Rourke brought together a team to develop both the qualification and how the apprenticeship would be delivered.

The development also included input from operational staff, Laing O’Rourke’s suppliers and BAM Nuttall as a representative of other major contractors.

The team defined the employers’ standards, the quality control requirements, the knowledge qualification, workplace learning (NVQ), the approach to up-skilling, the training exercises and delivery of the apprenticeship.

The process was undertaken in line with the Richard Review principles.

A full package has been brought together including Functional Skills, ERR and trainee/pre-apprenticeships pathways at entry and level one. A level three is planned for team leaders in order to give a full pathway. The local enterprise partnership and local agencies are involved in recruiting potential apprentices and the apprenticeship has been approved by Ofqual and is on the Apprenticeship Framework.

The initial trainee programme has started and the first cohort of apprentices is planned to begin the level two apprenticeship in March.

A quality control group with the employers will oversee the new style apprenticeships.

The qualification has been designed in such a way as to also provide a framework for up-skilling the existing workforce and introduce the use of new technology into site based work.

Bringing everyone together in this way is an innovative approach to the development of employer-led apprenticeships and qualifications. All involved have enjoyed this collaborative approach and see this as an excellent way of working. It’s the way of the future for employer-led apprenticeships and qualifications.

Alison Lamplough, head of operational training, Laing O’Rourke