Graham Nicholson, Executive Managing Director at Tony Gee and Partners, Chair at TAC, discusses the need for more apprentices in the construction sector…
The construction industry is facing a skills shortage. There are not enough young people entering the profession to meet current employer’s requirements and counter the number of qualified engineers and engineering technicians who are retiring. This demand for skills has become particularly acute with the increasing use of digital technology used today to deliver design information. New skills are needed to make best use of the latest software and data management.
With this background it is vital that the industry attracts, recruits, trains and retains young people from all backgrounds to meet these demands. Apprenticeship schemes, such as the Technician Apprenticeship Consortium, help companies to reach many more young people by using a collective and collaborative approach to promoting apprenticeships. The industry has a responsibility to develop the skills required for the future by employing young people now and training them now.
For some of the larger businesses it is perhaps easier for them to provide a resource dedicated to apprentices. For the smaller firms, and in particular the SME’s, the cost and time of developing relationships with colleges and recruiting apprentices is proportionately more significant. This is where the consortium really helps. With each organisation contributing to the consortium the combined output is large and importantly, consistent. The skill base developed is therefore appropriate for the industry as a whole and is not just tailored to one particular organisation. The colleges liaise with the consortium rather than with each and every organisation so they also benefit.
At Tony Gee we have found that apprentices become an important part of our design teams after a relatively short time. Tasks are set to match the apprentice’s ability and confidence levels. The work is done on real projects with real outputs, unlike the exercise work undertaken in the colleges. College work is important and provides the foundation for knowledge but working on active projects adds purpose and excitement. Support is given by the firms throughout. The apprentices know that others will rely on their work and that helps them to learn quickly.
There are some key elements to making an engineering apprenticeship successful. The first is to recruit candidates who have a basic understanding of mathematics and who can communicate. The emphasis here is on the word basic. Software has removed the need for technicians to have complex mathematical ability but an understanding of geometry remains important.
The second element is for the firm to have a clearly defined career path for any apprentice. This will demonstrate to an apprentice how they can progress their careers. This adds motivation for their learning and keeps them informed on their next steps. The pathway can lead to the highest positions in a business and the achievement of professional qualifications. However, there will be many stepping off points along the way which can allow everyone to reach their aspirations and potential.
A third and equally important element is for the employer to provide mentoring support. Learning from others is a crucial part of developing skills. The Technician Apprenticeship Consortium (TAC) provides its members with an expertly written mentoring guide so that best practice can be shared across the industry. Feedback from apprentices indicates that working in a challenging environment with supportive colleagues results in high job satisfaction.
Working with TAC has enabled firms to confidently employ apprentices knowing that they will receive a consistent and quality education from their day release at vetted colleges. TAC has, though its relationships with the profession institutions developed pathways that lead to a professional qualification. The end product is that many young people can now embark upon an exciting and rewarding career in engineering without necessarily going to university. The apprenticeship route develops skills and knowledge whilst working in industry with the added benefit of earning a salary.
Executive Managing Director
Tony Gee and Partners
Chair at TAC