Constructing career paths

More effort is needed to put apprenticeships and professional development at the heart of businesses to create a truly aspirational industry, says Tarmac’s Martin Riley.

National Apprenticeship Week from 4-8 March is a timely reminder that the foundations of our future built environment need to be supported by the next generation of highly-skilled employees. The skills shortage facing the construction industry is a widely documented concern, as is the need for high-quality technical training programmes to help address it.

Having started my own career as an apprentice at Tarmac more than 30 years ago, I know first-hand how vital it is to provide our future leaders with accessible training and professional development opportunities. So, it was disappointing to see the recent news from the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) that the government is likely to miss its ambitious target of creating three million new apprenticeships by 2020.

There continues to be challenges following the implementation of the apprenticeship levy, such as limitations around the flexibility of the new funding and a lack of industry-specific, technical apprenticeship standards. More needs to be done to get people onto these schemes and businesses must continue to work together to promote their benefits to potential new recruits. Critically, this needs to be driven by senior industry figures, not simply left to HR departments or recruiters.

However, there are positive indications that companies are beginning to get to grips with the new system. The creation of the IfA itself has been a welcome step here by helping to provide clarity on employer expectations. It is encouraging that the body was allocated additional funding last year to update and introduce further training courses and standards that are tailored for specific sectors.

This is of particular significance to businesses in the construction materials and quarrying sector, where previous standards that were based around engineering did not reflect the skillsets required for many roles. Given that all infrastructure and building projects start with construction materials, having trained, skilled people to develop, manufacture and deliver them is essential. 

At Tarmac we have worked alongside the IfA and collaboratively across the industry to establish apprenticeship standards. This means that highly specialist roles including weighbridge operators, plant operators, quarry supervisors and materials technicians now have standards to ensure that relevant technical skills are being delivered.

While this marks a major step forward for the construction materials industry – and subsequently the sector as a whole – the next challenge is to see these standards being used by more than just the main industry players and adopted by SMEs further down the supply chain.

Equally, the way we frame and sell apprenticeships is hugely important to attracting diverse talent and challenging traditional perceptions. While bringing in school-leavers and young people will always be key, I am also passionate that schemes should be open and promoted to people of all ages across all stages of their careers.

We should be able to maximise the opportunities afforded to us by the apprenticeship levy to retrain those looking to cross industries at various entry points, as well as invest in upskilling and reskilling existing employees to further their development.

To successfully tackle the skills challenge, it’s crucial that employers continue to work with government to improve technical training, provide clear career pathways and develop talent across all ages and levels. By putting apprenticeships and professional development at the heart of our businesses, talent will thrive and help to make ours a truly aspirational industry.

Martin Riley is Tarmac’s senior vice president.