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Trailblazers and T-Levels are not delivering for Construction - what do we do?

NOCN MD Graham Hasting-Evans writes for Construction News on the progress with Apprenticeships and Tech Levels.

As featured in Construction News

By Graham Hasting-Evans, M.Sc, C.Eng, MICE, FCMC, Group Managing Director, NOCN

The government started its reform of apprenticeships in 2013 and the transformation of vocational and technical qualifications in April 2016 with the Sainsbury Review.

So what’s been achieved since?

As of May, only 92 apprenticeship standards are complete or in development. That is a quarter of the total likely to be needed across the whole sector. For traditional operatives and trades, there are only 10 apprenticeship standards fully ready and funded. There are three others held up by arguments over the funding level the government will permit for employers to reclaim against the apprenticeship levy.
Only a tiny proportion of new apprentices in traditional skills are now on the new ‘Trailblazer’ standards introduced by the reforms. And all of this after five years.

The government has decided that its other reform – T-levels – will focus on Level 3 only (equivalent to an A-level) for the next five years. The intention is that this will be for people who want to progress to higher apprenticeships at the HNC, HND and degree levels such as technicians or professional jobs.

This policy will do nothing for the bedrock of the main workforce, ie Level 2, where there are major skills gaps. It will not support those young people who do not excel in academic GCSEs to get into traditional construction apprenticeships. This does nothing for social mobility.

So where does this leave the construction industry?

The default position for many employers who have skills gaps will be to boost wages to attract people from other companies as well as draw in migrants for operative, technical and professional jobs. We have fallen back on this approach for years as government policies have failed to understand and support the sector. You cannot take this one-size, office-based approach and expect it to work in construction.

Several Trailblazer groups have tried taking civil servants to sites to show them; it has not worked. We need to find a new way forward with the sector leading and controlling skills development.

The first step is to establish clear routes and pathways to produce the range of skilled workers required, then use this approach for emerging job types such as offsite manufacture and onsite assembly technicians.
We can then decide which skills can be honed through training with accreditation and qualifications, and which need a full apprenticeship. We must use all the means available to deliver the skills we need including short courses, top-up courses, CPD, long courses, full apprenticeships and management development.

This clarity can convince young people, parents and teachers what a great sector construction is to work in. We can also factor in what types of training we need for upskilling.

If we are going to plug the skills gaps, all parties including employers, the CITB, ECITB, major training providers and awarding bodies need to work together to establish the programme that can really deliver the sector’s requirements.