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Malcolm Moss, President of ADCAS, addresses issues surrounding training and bringing through the next generation of ductwork installers.

It’s no secret that the construction industry is currently in the midst of a chronic skills shortage that is likely to get worse before it gets better.

An aging workforce and a failure to attract new blood are recognised as contributing factors but what measures were put in place to tackle an issue that loomed large on the horizon for many years and what can be done do to readdress the balance and ensure future stability in an industry at risk of being left behind?

The apprenticeship route

The ductwork industry is reflective of the wider construction industry in that there simply aren’t enough skilled workers to go around. The Association of Ductwork Contractors and Allied Services (ADCAS) was quick to identify the predicament faced by the industry and has been heavily involved in training initiatives, from setting up the first college based NVQ L3 course in ductwork to helping to establish a new Trailblazer apprenticeship. Notably, the craftsman Trailblazer brought large sections of the ductwork industry together as individuals from a host of different companies spent more than two years ensuring it was written and approved in accordance to strict government guidelines.

It is now stipulated that apprenticeships must last for a minimum of 12 months and include 20% off-the-job training – learning which is undertaken outside of the normal day-to-day working environment but is directly relevant to the apprenticeship. The Trailblazer has been introduced because the government wants employers to lead the charge in designing and delivering apprenticeships that are fit for purpose and deliver the skills required by trainees and the wider industry.

Yet despite efforts spanning more than a decade, there is a feeling that some of the momentum is being lost as colleges and training providers are unwilling or unable to deliver ductwork training, whilst smaller companies aren’t being properly incentivised to take on apprentices and simply don’t have the resources to recruit in this way and remain competitive.

Careers advice

Though incentives for small businesses need to be revisited, the uncomfortable truth is that there aren’t enough young people looking to pursue a career in the ductwork industry and without sufficient interest training providers can’t justify support for courses. The industry has always been viewed as a specialist sector but there are numerous examples of past apprentices going on to achieve great things and establish themselves as major players. Unless current industry perceptions are altered this trend could be well and truly consigned to history.

Unfortunately, as with the wider construction industry, there is no silver bullet here. If we are to succeed in promoting the industry as an attractive proposition to young individuals from all backgrounds, we need government and business to come together and help to educate schools, students, teachers, careers advisors and parents at the earlier possible opportunity.

As things stand, the education system in the UK prioritises the university route for school leavers and although successive governments have made the right noises over apprenticeships and the need for change, most schools and educational facilities aren’t offering any sort of advice and guidance on what it takes to pursue a career in the construction industry. In order to enact any sort of meaningful change, employers, government and the UK education system need to work together to promote stronger links between local schools and businesses, presenting all of the options to young people and making sure they are armed with all of the facts before making a decision on where their future lies.

The government’s ‘industrial strategy’ aims to place further emphasis on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects but despite a £406m funding boost, more needs to be done to reach young people who find themselves at a crossroads after completing their education.

Competing with universities that are desperate to hit recruitment targets for courses, including some that are now pushing unconditional offers to A-level students, is becoming increasingly difficult. Those who do choose to enter the ductwork industry often do so because they see a way in through family members or friends and already have a basic understanding of how the industry works. Engaging with and educating the countless young people who have never even considered a career in the ductwork industry could well be the key to plugging the skills gap before it becomes a chasm.

A brief history of apprenticeships

 

– The very first apprenticeships can be traced back to the medieval craft guilds in the Middle Ages with upper class parents sending children away to live with host families.

-By the Tudor Period 1485-1603, apprenticeships were seen as acceptable form of training.

 –The first national apprenticeship system of training was introduced in 1563 by the Statute of Artificers.

 –By the early 1900s it is estimated that there were over 340,000 apprentices. This growth continued after both World Wars and by the 1960s a third of boys were leaving school to become apprentices.

 –In 1993 Modern Apprenticeships were announced.They would count as employees and be paid a wage. They were required to work towards an NVQ Level 3 qualification (equivalent of A Levels).  Shortly afterwards National Traineeships were introduced at Level 2 (equivalent to GCSEs). These were intended as a progression route into apprenticeships for those young people who were not ready to enter a Level 3 programme.

 –By the end of 1998 almost a quarter of a million people in England & Wales had started a Modern Apprenticeship. The Modern Apprenticeship continued to evolve with National Traineeships becoming Foundation Modern Apprenticeships, and Modern Apprenticeships becoming Advanced Modern Apprenticeships.

 –Between 2004 and 2010 another rebrand saw Advance Modern Apprenticeships become Advance Apprenticeships, and Foundation Modern Apprenticeships become Apprenticeships and then rebranded again to Intermediate Apprenticeships. An upper age limit of 25 was removed and apprenticeships introduced for 14-16 year olds.

 –After 2010, Higher Apprenticeships were introduced (equivalent to foundation degrees or above) and the Young Apprenticeships scheme ended. By 2011/2012 there were over half a million apprentices. In 2012 minimum standards introduced that required that all apprentices must last a year, provide 30 hours of employment a week and minimum amount of guided learning.

 –In 2015 Trailblazers were introduced. A Trailblazer is made up of a group of employers who work together to design new apprenticeship standards for occupations within their sectors.

 
 
 

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