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Apprenticeship week – industry campaigning to "challenge stigma"

National Apprenticeship Week starts today, with infrastructure industry leaders calling for schools, colleges and parents to alter attitudes towards apprenticeships as a viable and credible route to a successful career. The Construction Industry Training Board has revealed that 22,496 young people started apprenticeships in the construction industry in 2014/15 – a 12% increase on the previous year and the highest number of new apprentice starts since the 2008 financial crisis. But a lot more are needed as major growth in infrastructure is expected to underpin a construction boom. CITB is predicting 230,000 new construction jobs will need filling by 2020.

Network Rail boss Mark Carne is among industry leaders that have marked the start of Apprenticeship Week with a call to "challenge the stigma" around apprenticeships. Network Rail is looking to recruit 150 young people onto its apprenticeship programme over the coming year.

“Our apprenticeship scheme has been running for 10 years and we are incredibly proud of what our graduates have gone on to achieve. For many this has fast-tracked them towards achieving personal and professional goals ahead of their friends, such as managing a team and buying a house," Carne said.

“Our graduated apprentices are living proof that there should be no stigma associated with apprenticeships, and that with the right attitude and work ethic, they can reap the rewards alongside those who have chosen a university route. I urge employers, teachers and parents to educate young people about the fantastic benefits that an apprenticeship can offer, both in a personal and professional capacity.”

Aecom has published results of its own research which shows misperceptions among young people are the biggest barrier to recruiting more people onto apprenticeship programmes. One in four apprentices responding to the Aecom survey say a lack of information and awareness about the benefits of apprenticeships in schools is the biggest obstacle, while just over one in five say a lack of availability of apprenticeships is the challenge. According to the survey, many good candidates are not considering apprenticeships in the first place because they view them as inferior to degrees, while a lack of awareness about what apprenticeships entail is putting off others.

Aecom's MD for transportation, UK, Ireland and Continental Europe, Paul McCormick, began his career as an apprentice. He said: "This all goes back to teachers and parents, which are putting too much emphasis on the need for young people to go to university when a large proportion have fantastic opportunities for achieving successful careers via the apprenticeship route. We're looking to take on 150 apprentices this year to add to the 350 strong cohort we have going through a four year training programme. They're technicians after two years and many are sponsored through to degree level. We're continuing to campaign to show schools and colleges the value of an apprenticeship."

Director of membership at the Institution of Civil Engineers, Sean Harris, said: “A high quality engineering apprenticeship is a gateway to a diverse and rewarding career. ICE welcomes aspiring engineers and technicians on apprenticeships into our membership and supports them throughout their career progression.

“The political support for new apprenticeships, and the growing interest from employers, is promising. But quality is the key here – schemes must be set to rigorous standards so apprentices are equipped to progress on the career ladder and go onto achieve a recognised professional qualification. It is also important that schools are properly resourced with careers guidance so young people are aware of all the engineering career paths available to them.”

If you would like to contact Jon Masters about this, or any other story, please email jmasters@infrastructure-intelligence.com.