16th Sep 2013

Seddon calls for training shake-up to stop thousands 'stagnating' on college courses - and tackle looming skills gap

National construction company Seddon is calling for radical changes to the way that new construction apprentices are trained.

The company believes that while the industry bemoans the skills shortage, thousands of youngsters are currently ‘stagnating’ on further education college courses which may ultimately leave them without the skills needed to work in the industry.

In its latest apprentice recruitment round, Seddon received 870 applications for the 70 apprenticeships it expects to create over the next 12 months. Nearly half – around 45 per cent - of these were from students who have already studied for a college diploma or who are currently on a college course. But the company’s experience is that many students are not ready to work in the industry at the end of their course.

Seddon – which doesn’t believe the Richards Review proposals for changing the apprenticeship system will work for the construction sector – has come up with its own potential solution.

The company wants to work more closely with colleges by providing paid work placements for students which would enable them to develop the industry experience needed to be ‘job-ready’. However, the colleges it has already approached with the idea do not feel this would benefit them as it would affect their funding.

Nicola Hodkinson, director of business services for Seddon, says:  "We are not unhappy that the colleges should get money for training people. But for us, the issue is that if we take someone on from a college course, they are not ‘job-ready’. It’s not a question of someone joining us and finishing their training on site – we are effectively having to start from scratch with them.

"An alternative would be to actually start funding the industry for training, not just the colleges. Our solution was to speak to a number of colleges offering to provide paid work placements which would allow students to work towards gaining NVQ qualifications, something which colleges do not deliver as part of the Construction Diploma qualification.

"For us, the young person being trained should be the number one priority. At a time when the industry is shouting about a skills shortage, thousands of young people on college courses are stagnating and are not ready to get jobs. We would be interested in knowing how many finish their college course and then go on to work in the industry. This is something that the colleges can’t – or won’t – tell us. Yet it’s the industry that will be on the backfoot, not the colleges, if the current situation continues.

"The danger is that if this recession ends, say in 2015, we will not have the people in place needed to cope with the upturn. At the same time, the CITB has highlighted the potential skills ‘time bomb’ created by the fact that almost one in five construction workers is set to retire over the next five to 10 years.”

Seddon doubts that the Richards Review proposals currently out to consultation, which include plans for employers to receive direct funding for apprentice training, will work for construction. "Given that we already have the levy and grant system, how would a separate funding arrangement work?” asks Nicola Hodkinson, "and if employers do become directly funded for training in the way proposed, it also raises the question of how that training will be regulated.”

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