Construction union calls for end to “dead end” construction training courses

The UK’s largest union, Unite, is calling for a radical overhaul in construction training courses after it discovered just 10% of those were linked to an apprenticeship. 

A freedom of information request to the government’s Skills Funding Agency by Unite revealed that in 2016/17 just 21,010 courses included a workplace element meaning trainees were unable to attain an NVQ - the only recognised qualification in the construction industry. Altogether, 203,400 people undertook a full-time or part-time construction course in 2016/17 - a 5% increase on 2015/16.

But union leaders have heavily criticised these courses, labelling them “dead end”, as the vast majority are claimed to be simply classroom-based and therefore not allowing students to sample a working environment and achieve the necessary NVQ.

The union is now calling on funding which is being pumped into further education colleges, private providers and third sector organisations to be redirected with the money being used to promote a greater number of genuine apprenticeships.

Leaders also highlight how the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) estimates the industry needs 31,600 new entrants every year. On average, 35,000 apply every year to the CITB to undertake an apprenticeship in the biblical trades while 19,000 apply to the JTL which undertakes electrical apprenticeships. The CITB is able to find places for 6,000 apprentices a year (17 %) while the figure for the JTL is 2,000 (11%).

It is said to be even more difficult for women and black and ethnic minority (BAEM) candidates to secure an apprenticeship. Just 5% of women applying to the JTL secured a start, while the figure for BAME candidates was little better with just 7% securing an apprenticeship.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail, said: “These figures show that the current construction training system is broken. Young people are too often having their hopes of a construction career crushed as they end up on courses which can’t provide the qualifications they need.  Thousands of people are applying for apprenticeships but there are not enough places available, yet at the same time construction colleges are piling on ‘dead end courses’ which deny young people the qualifications needed for a career in construction. The government needs to sit down and a take a multi-department approach to this problem and to use the funding it is providing to maximise the number of construction apprentices. This is in the best interests of young people, the construction industry and the economy.”

In June, the Association for Consultancy and Engineering is holding its inaugural ACE Skills Summit, which will focus on the key skills issues facing the industry and how to attract and retain the next generation. Key speakers from Ramboll, Engineering UK and the Royal Academy of Engineering will explore these issues. 

To find out more about the ACE event, click here. 

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