A shakeup up in vocational training could be the biggest step towards plugging the skills gap.
It has often been said that Britain’s lingering prejudice towards vocational training has averted a generation from considering careers in construction. However, new plans announced in the Spring Statement have the potential to rebuild the reputation of technical qualifications.
Philip Hammond announced the introduction of T-Level qualifications to rival the traditional academic system and further enhance technical education. In addition, the chancellor pledged a 50% increase in the number of programme hours for 16-19 year olds by 2019/20 and announced £40 million of funding for the Lifelong Learning pilots to retrain existing workers.
The housebuilding industry has given the news a cautious welcome. “We welcome the £500m increase in funding for technical education, though it is unlikely this will help reduce existing pressing skills shortages,” warned Eddie Tuttle, Associate Director for Policy, Research and Public Affairs at CIOB. “Achieving greater parity between academic and vocational education and providing ‘work-ready’ employees is particularly crucial in construction.
“The offer within these ‘T-levels’ of a high quality work placement is vital; alongside further education institutes and employers, we as a professional body look forward to working with the government to develop these qualifications.
RIBA President Jane Duncan said, “I welcome the Chancellor’s moves to increase the prestige and prominence of technical education with the T-Level. These combined with new apprenticeships should encourage a much broader range of people to consider a career in architecture and the built environment.”
The FMB warned that the new T-Levels must match A-Levels if they are to carry the same cache as academic qualifications. “The Chancellor clearly understands that the UK won’t address the productivity challenge unless we rethink our approach to technical and vocational education,” said Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB.
“T-Levels could be the answer if they genuinely rival A-Levels in the eyes of parents, teachers and young people,” he continued. “UK society as a whole has been guilty of putting too much emphasis on the academic route – this has made it more difficult for vital sectors like construction and house building to attract the talented new people we need.
“In construction, we are suffering from a severe skills shortage and this is likely to worsen once we leave the EU and no longer have easy access to European labour. This £500 million funding for T-Levels is therefore a welcome and much-needed boost.”
The National Federation of Builders (NFB) believes that introducing T-Levels and funds for developing existing workers are positive steps addressing the challenge posed by the construction skills crisis.
SME businesses employ 60% of the private sector and it is estimated that 20% of all SMEs operate in the construction industry. However, SME housebuilders currently build just 12% of the market. This is very damaging for skilled workers pursuing a career in construction.
Rico Wojtulewicz, policy advisor for the House Builders Association (HBA), said, “It is imperative that we deliver high-quality training, but not if employment opportunities are for a transient workforce or one that is concentrated mostly in large cities.”
Paul Bogle, head of policy and research at the NFB, added, “SMEs are already capable of providing the career opportunities that construction needs. The industrial strategy and local policies must properly reflect the role of SMEs in training local apprentices, recruiting local workers and developing local economies.”