Bureaucracy preventing small UK building firms from taking on apprentices

A third of small construction firms in the UK are being put off from taking on apprentices because of the bureaucracy involved, according to a new research report.

The construction industry is in the midst of a skills crisis which can only be solved if more employers take on apprentices, says the report from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

The research shows that 94% of small construction firms want to train apprentices but a third are being turned off by a number of serious ‘fear factors’. These include the cost of employing and training an apprentice and major concerns regarding the complexity of the process.

‘There is strong evidence to show that small construction firms need better information and that if they were more aware of the support that’s available, a great number would train apprentices,’ said Brian Berry, FMB chief executive.

The research also found that just under 80% of non-recruiters are not aware of one of the most important apprenticeship grants available to them and just over 75% say knowledge of financial support would make them more likely to take on apprentices.

‘Given that two thirds of all construction apprentices are trained by SMEs it is critical that the Government does everything in its power to remove any barriers that might be stopping these companies from training,’ Berry explained.

‘Looking ahead, the Government’s new apprenticeship voucher could be a disaster for small firms unless it is properly road tested and made as simple and easy to use as possible. We’re also calling on the Government to protect our industry training board which is at risk from the new Apprenticeship Levy,’ he pointed out.

‘The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) needs reform admittedly but without it the very smallest firms would be left with less financial and practical support for apprenticeship training. Remove this lifeline and you risk worsening the skills crisis,’ he added.

The report is published at the same time as another piece of research which shows that construction and trade positions make up just 7% of all apprenticeships, down from a high of 12% in 2006.

The research from small business insurer Direct Line for Business also shows that while the number of total apprenticeships has increased by 57% in the last five years to 434,630 during 2013/2014, only two construction and trade focused apprenticeships rank in the top 10, construction skills at nine and industrial applications at 10.

This is vastly different to 2006/2007 when construction skills apprenticeships topped the table, with more than 20,000 apprenticeships undertaken in this field.

‘Construction and trade based skills are vital to the UK economy. It’s tradespeople who come to the rescue when our boiler fails, and are the ones who are working every day to build homes, offices and help improve our roads,’ said Nick Breton, head of Direct Line for Business.

‘Apprenticeships are important for budding builders, plumbers and electricians to get into the workplace. With fewer people in apprenticeships there is a risk of creating a skills gap that will affect businesses and consumers alike,’ he pointed out.

‘The introduction of the new £3 billion apprenticeship levy in the Government’s Autumn Statement and the promise of three million new apprenticeships across the UK is a positive move, which we hope will make it easier for SMEs to ensure that they have access to skilled young workers,’ he added.