Getting your hands dirty isn’t a phrase that resonates with today’s youth. Getting your hands sterilised to eat your next portion of superfood would be more apt. However, National Apprenticeship Week has highlighted how many career-seekers are still keen to learn on the job, and the introduction of T-Levels promises to challenge attitudes towards vocational training.
Apprentices are good for business. A recent FMB survey revealed that almost two thirds of homeowners would have a more favourable image of a building firm which trains apprentices. In a competitive market, it makes sense that a business that invests in young people is seen in a better light.
Next month will see the introduction of the government’s new Apprenticeship Levy on large firms, so this year could see a big shift in terms of who is directly involved in apprenticeship training. In construction, two-thirds of all apprentices are currently trained by SMEs.
A recent investigation from Unite revealed that the number of classroom-based construction courses increased by 14% last year, totally dwarfing the number of apprentices beginning their training. Unless this balanced is redressed, the industry will wall-off a new generation of talent.
On the bright side, there are plenty of young people eager to don a hard hat and brave a real working environment.
“It’s a great opportunity to get paid to learn, and to get yourself set up and into a career,” said 17-year-old Spencer Beck, who is taking a Level 2 Carpentry & Joinery NVQ at Leicester College while working on housebuilder Westleigh’s latest development in Hinckley. “You also have fun while you’re doing it, meet a lot of new people and make new friends. Westleigh have been great, they’re very supportive of their apprentices and there is a really positive atmosphere.”
Reif Armstrong is a Level 2 bricklaying apprentice studying at Leicester College. He is working on-site in Hinckley alongside Spencer, where he has been gaining practical experience over the past four months.
Reif, also 17, said, “An apprenticeship is the best way of learning; the work done at college and the practical work on site go hand-in-hand and that does help you to learn more quickly. If you want to be a qualified bricklayer, this is the best way to get there.”
Apprenticeships aren’t just for school leavers; they also offer a golden opportunity for those looking to change career. Notting Hill Housing employs a number of apprentices including trainee bricklayer Nathan Menlove, 36, from London Bridge, who is currently working at a residential development in Lambeth.
“I’d been working as a sound technician for over ten years, but decided a few years ago that it wasn’t what I wanted to do forever,” said Menlove. “My father worked as a Quantity Surveyor, so I grew up on building sites. I’ve always been creative, and had experience of labouring and building, which made bricklaying the ideal career move. It holds an extra appeal as I love seeing something grow literally from the ground up, with my own hands.”
Large housebuilders have used National Apprenticeship Week to voice their support for young people who are banging on the industry’s door.
“National Apprenticeship Week is an important lever to encourage even more people to choose apprenticeships as a fast-track route to a great career,” said Stephen Stone, Chief Executive of Crest Nicholson. “The construction sector as a whole must encourage more young people to consider a career in construction and in particular the opportunities offered by apprenticeships.
“At Crest Nicholson, we are currently working towards employing 10% of its workforce as apprentices. In September, we will introduce our first ever degree apprenticeship in quantity surveying in addition to apprenticeships in site management where those enrolled will have the opportunity to ‘earn while they learn’.
“Now is the time to invest in the future of our industry and ensure we are nurturing the talent that will continue to provide the UK with quality housing for years to come.”