Building apprenticeships plummet in London

The number of construction apprenticeships starting in London has fallen in each of the past three years, a study has found.

Data released by the London Assembly Economy Committee showed 18% fewer people started a construction apprenticeship in the capital in 2020/21 compared to 2017/18.

This far exceeded a 3% drop in the total number of apprenticeship starts across all sectors in London over the same period.

The committee said fewer apprenticeship places were on offer last year than before the much-heralded apprenticeship tax was introduced in 2017.

Recommendations made to Ministers in the committee report included the introduction of financial incentives for employers to take on apprentices with disabilities or under the age of 19.

Economics Committee Chairman Neil Garratt said: “Apprenticeships are a valuable tool in providing pathways to work and a great opportunity for the existing workforce to learn new skills.

“But our survey revealed that there remains a lack of awareness of apprenticeships among both employers and young people. This means missed opportunities for employers to develop their workforce and missed opportunities for people who struggle to find a career path that suits them.

According to the study, the estimated number of Tier 2 apprentices in London – across all sectors – has fallen by 62% since 2016/17, while the number of apprentices under the age of 19 has halved.

SMEs in particular have offered fewer apprenticeship places since the tax was introduced, the committee found. He called on the government to allow businesses to shift a greater proportion of their levy funding to smaller, non-paying businesses.

Graham Watts, chief executive of the Construction Industry Council, said the number of apprentices in the industry was slowly increasing across the country after a drop during the pandemic.

But he added that the “level of bureaucracy” involved in providing apprenticeships was a barrier for small businesses in particular.

Beyond that, there was a wider challenge for the sector, he added, in improving “the profile and attractiveness of the industry for school leavers”.

London’s deputy mayor for skills, Jules Pipe, told a meeting of the economy committee last month that there was a “1950s view” on “some of the roles… like building”.

He added: “These are outdated and we need to bring them forward. We need to improve awareness of apprenticeships, the quality of what currently exists, and the standard and breadth of careers that flow from it. »

Helen Yeulet, who leads the skills group at the alliance of professional engineering bodies Actuate UK, said the “very low levels” of construction apprenticeship training highlighted by the committee’s report were “in line with our own data from the engineering services sector”.

She added: “Most engineering services employers in London tend to be small or medium-sized businesses and have faced many challenges over the past few years, including disruption due to COVID-19.

“Actuate UK welcomes the committee’s focus on removing barriers to apprenticeship acceptance in London and would welcome the opportunity to work more closely to increase levels of adoption, especially that we are grappling with the demand for green skills for the future and an aging workforce.”

Lee Bryer, head of industry knowledge at the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), said the figures from the Economics Committee study were “broadly in line with national trends and reflect the latest CITB analysis”.

He pointed out that the 2% drop in apprenticeship starts in construction in the capital between 2016/2017 and 2020/2021 was lower than in many other sectors.

“The pandemic has undoubtedly impacted the numbers since 2019, with confidence to recruit an apprentice lower,” Bryer said.

“The composition of the construction sector in London will also be a factor. It has a high proportion of large companies and lower levels of direct employment. Although London has very significant unmet construction demand, it also has a very diverse economy and the pressure on long-established sectors like construction is becoming progressively more acute as demand increases elsewhere – notably building technology. information and communication.

A Department for Education spokesman said increasing apprenticeship placements “remains a key priority”.

“Since 2010, there have been over 5 million learning starts,” they added. “It’s also great to see a big increase in the number of people starting an apprenticeship in the first term of this academic year – up 43% from last year.

“We will continue to work with employers to increase the number of apprenticeship places available, including increasing apprenticeship funding by £2.7bn by 2024-25 to help businesses of all sizes build the skilled labor they need.”

Last summer, the CITB found that an additional 216,800 construction workers would be needed by 2025 to meet demand.

But figures released by the Office for National Statistics last month showed the number of self-employed construction workers hit an 18-year low in 2021.

Alice F. Ponder