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Apprentices are needed to fill industry skills gaps, says new TAC chair

Chris Burton of Tony Gee and Partners has been appointed chair of the Technical Apprenticeships Consortium (TAC). He spoke to James Ketchell about his new role and how apprentices can help fill the industry’s skills gap. 

“I’ve always supported learning and development. It’s always been a passion of mine,” says Chris Burton. He’s talking me through an illustrious career outside of his nine-to-five where he was one of the first ‘young presenters’, sat on numerous panels and committees for ICE and the CITB. As the chair of ICE’s professional review panel he oversaw significant changes to its processes, and most recently was appointed chair of the Technical Apprenticeship Consortium (TAC).

Taking over the chairmanship from Tony Gee and Partners chief executive Graham Nicholson, Burton was no doubt seen as an ideal appointee owing to his broad career in the industry - and he’s worked in civil engineering, project management and business development roles. All of which gives him a unique perspective on apprenticeships and the value they add to employers. 

“Graham has brought the consortium to a great place,” Burton says. “But one of the challenges that he faced - and I will too - is promoting the value of apprenticeships to its members and the wider industry. I’ll work hard to encourage more companies to consider what TAC has to offer,” he says.

The consortium brings together consultancy and engineering firms to help them meet their needs through the recruitment and training of apprentices. In practice this has meant enabling more than 1,500 placements since its formation in 2010. It now offers six separate qualifications across rail design, civil engineering, building services engineering and transport design, working in partnership with upwards of 20 colleges and universities across the UK.

“It’s a straightforward way to gain professional experiences and a qualification and it’s a win-win for employers and employees who both gain,” says Burton. This may in part be why we’re seeing a renewed focus on apprenticeships. Indeed, TAC’s recent growth and success come alongside a 14.5% increase in apprenticeship starts across all industries in 2016/17.

I ask Burton whether he thinks the industry has been slow to respond to changes in the employment marketplace or the sector. “I don’t think our industry has necessarily been slow, we just work in an extremely complex area,” Burton says. “The changes we’ve seen over the last 20 years, fuelled more recently by technology, are huge. Looking ahead, there is no sign of the pace of change slowing down,” he says.

Burton adds: “I’m sure our remit will continue to evolve over the next five to ten years to meet these challenges head-on. We can explore best practice elsewhere and upskill with the future in mind. TAC absolutely has a huge role to play in that.”

“The traditional look of the project team and technician role is changing and we need apprentices, at all levels, to come in to fill these skills gaps. I think we’ll see a return to the days when technicians were at the forefront of design and innovation,” Burton says. 

Click here for more information about the Technical Apprenticeships Consortium.

If you would like to contact James Ketchell about this, or any other story, please email jketchell@infrastructure-intelligence.com.