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Construction industry blames recession on apprenticeships decline

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The construction industry has blamed the recession for a sharp drop in apprenticeship numbers after a parliamentary commission showed a sharp decline in recent years.

The number of construction industry apprenticeships completed in 2012/13 was 7,280, half of the number completed in 2008/09.

Practitioners from across the sector generally agree the recession is the main factor in the dramatic decrease in numbers.

Bruce Boughton, people development manager at Lovell Partnership, told HR magazine: "Before the recession you had staff who had been working for 10 or 20 years. As many of them were laid off, there was a big shortage of experience on workforces. This will inevitably make it harder to train apprentices or generally take on less experienced workers."

The availability of overseas workers is another factor that has been identified.

"There is a skilled migrant workforce that is easily accessible. It costs a lot less to hire these people than it does to run an apprenticeship scheme for two years," said Ray Wilson, director of training services at Carillion and a Construction Industry Training Board member. 

Despite this, he claims Carillion are still running a strong apprenticeship programme. "We hire over 1,000 apprentices a year. We've had great support from our HR department. All HR professionals should appreciate the value these young people can bring to the company. In terms of loyalty, innovation and a fresh approach, it's a good return on investment," he said.

While economic factors clearly play a part, Wilson believes the perception of the industry is another big problem.

"The construction industry doesn't do enough to promote itself. Even during the recession young people didn't see it as an attractive industry to enter," he said.

SMEs have found it particularly hard to take on apprentices during the recession. Smaller budgets and workforces mean they don't have the money or resources to train apprentices or run programmes.

Ian Dickerson, head of new entrants & funding at Kier Group, says that companies must work together to counter these problems.

"Employers can work collaboratively to pool apprentices. While each company may not be able to take on an apprentice each, there's no reason that five can't take on two or three apprentices between them in a jointly run programme," he said.