There is a skills gap in the UK construction sector, which will only grow wider if more is not done to attract the next generation into the industry. In Germany, apprentices are the foundation of the workforce, with over two thirds of people under the age of 22 going directly into an apprenticeship. The UK lags behind Germany – but this is starting to change. With the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017, UK employers are working to embrace apprenticeships in their organisations. The purpose of the levy is to encourage employers to invest in apprenticeship programmes and to raise additional funds to improve the quality and quantity of apprenticeships. Despite this, university is still seen as the most popular route for school leavers. Alongside the construction industry’s qualifications council (the MPQC), Aggregate Industries is working to deliver a message not only to school leavers, but to parents too, educating them on the benefits of apprenticeship schemes.
The time for innovation
Cement is an industry that is ready to be innovated further, something that is key to attracting future talent. The future workforce is a generation growing up in the digital era; it is therefore essential to appeal to their interests. Companies need to encourage collaboration, resource sharing, and show that they are embracing technology that appeals to the future workforce’s interests outside of work. The cement industry is something that people can be excited about: each day technology is being better utilised, for example in the increasing use of drones to inspect equipment and a movement towards robotics and automation. This all lends itself to attracting a more diverse workforce.
Aggregate Industries has a varied choice of apprenticeship schemes with roles spanning from business administration apprentices (Level 3), to mechanical and electrical apprentices (Level 3), and apprentices in first line supervisory roles (Level 5). The levels are structured in order to aid progression and align with the traditional route of secondary school to university.
Aggregate Industries places an emphasis on off-the-job learning, where apprentices can gain key skills and network with other apprentices. Regular workshops are held, focused on developing the apprentices’ professional and personal skills, designed to improve innovation, and increase the productivity and potential of the apprentice. The company has also created forums for their apprentices to communicate effectively and to share their ideas.
It is seen that the return on investment on an apprentice for a business can be substantial. In 2015, the UK Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills reported that for every £1 invested in a Level 2 apprenticeship, £26 is returned. For Level 3, it is slighter higher, at £28 returned for every £1 invested. There is a real opportunity for employers to work more collaboratively with educational bodies, such as colleges and universities, as apprenticeships are being seen as a more economically viable route into full-time employment. Apprentice retention tends to be high, providing not only benefits to the employer but security to the apprentice.
As apprenticeships become more dynamic, it allows the cement industry (and beyond) to attract a far more diverse workforce. Mechanical and electrical apprentices are given the opportunity to question, improve, and innovate processes. Technical apprenticeships are becoming more popular: in 2018, for the first time, Aggregate Industries has offered a commercial apprenticeship scheme to upskill current employees. The mix of the workforce is improving too. In 2017, Aggregate Industries recruited its first female engineering apprentice: of a total of nineteen higher apprentices employed, seven were female. The key to this increase is that apprentices are invested in, meaning that they receive correct and relevant training. There is also a comprehensive support network relevant for their role.
There should be a real focus on attracting prospective school students at the age of 13 or 14, when they are beginning to form their path for a future career. Working with the MPQC (MP Futures) and their newly introduced Inspiring Futures scheme, Aggregate Industries has now trained twenty six science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) ambassadors to assist in educating schools (teachers, parents, and school children) on the benefits of working in the construction industry and STEM subjects. Being able to apply real-life examples to their learning and improving overall knowledge of the industry has been a contributing factor to the Aggregate Industries improved intake of apprentices. In the next ten years, major infrastructure projects are taking place around the world. Capturing the imagination of the future workforce now will mean they can take an active part in these projects in the future.
An apprentice’s story
My own journey within the industry has so far been extremely rewarding. All apprenticeships are unique and allow you to form your own path as long as you show willingness. Within a ten month period I found myself working across a number of departments, both operationally and within support functions, to leading a project that will be delivered to all operations within the UK. Aggregate Industries has provided opportunities and support through my studies at the University of Derby to achieve a Foundation Degree in Mineral Products Technology. There is an emphasis on providing the right mentors and the right opportunities, as well as ensuring an apprentice has a strong network of support.
A report released by Barclays and the Centre for Economics and Business Research revealed that an apprentice can earn up to 270% more in their lifetime than a graduate leaving university. Not only do I receive formal training through the University of Derby, but I have the opportunity to gain qualifications and training relevant to my job role, all without a large student loan. I feel I have developed massively in a short period of time, all while becoming more experienced within the workplace. I was not aware of how exciting a career in the cement industry could be. I was not aware of the travel and career opportunities available. I therefore feel it is equally important that, as an industry, we are able to sell the benefits of a career within cement.
I recently joined the Institute for Apprenticeships’ Apprentice Panel, which brings together employers to help develop new apprenticeships in their field, while also valuing the input of apprentices themselves. This should provide me with an opportunity to help promote apprenticeships to others and use my personal experience to make a contribution and influence the institute’s thinking. My hope is to raise the awareness of the benefits a career within the construction industry can offer and champion the work we are doing to change this.
Apprenticeships are not just for people looking to join a business. They provide a real opportunity for employers to upskill their own workforce, with an increasing number of employers offering employees a chance to take part in an apprenticeship or providing formal training alongside their current job role. It is important that companies within the construction sector develop a culture that welcomes apprentices into their workforce, not only making a safe and exciting environment for their employees to work in, but developing a culture that promotes knowledge sharing with existing employees and aids succession planning within an organisation.
In summary, with infrastructure projects on the rise as the world strives to become more connected, there will be an emphasis on the next generation to take the lead. There is a global talent shortage and, as an industry, keeping pace with technological advancements has its challenges. I have had an extremely rewarding apprenticeship so far and, looking to the future, I feel I have an opportunity to enjoy an exciting career that sees me involved in important projects around the world. More can be done to promote the construction industry, however: we can take real pride in the work we do and the way companies within our sector are providing opportunities for the future workforce. I strongly believe, therefore, that the focus should be on capturing the imagination of the future generation and ensuring that they continue to receive the best possible mentoring and training for themselves, ultimately benefiting the industry going forward.
Read the article online at: https://www.worldcement.com/europe-cis/01112018/apprenticeships-the-future-of-the-industry/