Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has announced £50m of funding for apprentices in engineering and other growth sectors
The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has welcomed the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement but called for greater clarity from government on whether new funding will address skills shortages in the construction industry.
Acknowledging that investment in skills is at the heart of a prosperous economy, Jeremy Hunt announced funding of £50m over the next two years to pilot ways to increase the number of apprentices in engineering and other key growth sectors.
Commenting on the announcement, Eddie Tuttle, director of policy, external affairs and research at CIOB, said: “One of the biggest issues facing the construction industry is the skills shortage. In fact, Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) research recently revealed nearly 45,000 extra workers are required each year just to meet construction demand by 2027.
“While CIOB welcomes the government’s commitment to invest £50m in apprenticeships for key sectors like engineering, it is unclear whether the construction sector more generally, which has traditionally been reliant on apprentices as one way of generating new employment, is included in this investment, particularly when shortages are prevalent and have been highlighted across the industry.”
Echoing Tuttle’s comments, David Crosthwaite, chief economist at the Building Cost Information Service (BCIS), said that the Autumn Statement was lacking in clarity for the construction industry.
“In light of the OBR’s central forecast being downgraded, the Autumn Statement was really quite underwhelming for the construction industry, which has been crying out for some clarity, commitment and consistency in policies,” he said.
“Crucially, the already delayed National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline is still nowhere to be seen, with the government saying it will publish a National Infrastructure Strategy next year.
“Investment in infrastructure, and removing barriers to private sector investment, is hugely important to driving economic growth. With the Autumn Statement, construction firms operating in an uncertain market have simply had that uncertainty prolonged yet again.”
Referring to the apprenticeships funding, Crosthwaite insisted that the announcement failed to “address a much wider skills gap we have across construction”.
EngineeringUK also welcomed the funding announcement but raised concerns over the constraints of a two-year pilot.
Hilary Leevers, chief executive at EngineeringUK, said: “The chancellor highlighted the importance of skills in his autumn statement, yet there was little to address widespread issues in the skills systems.
“We welcome the modest announcement of £50m for engineering apprenticeships, but are concerned that this is limited to a two-year pilot to explore ways to stimulate training in these sectors and address barriers to entry in high-value standards.”
Leevers added: “As outlined in our recent report Fit for the Future, we need large scale investment in getting more apprenticeships for young people off the ground now and to ensure that the country has the engineering and technology workforce it needs for the future. We urge the government to take a bolder approach.”
Innovation in skills
Lee Parkinson, chief executive at Efficiency North, said: “As ever, it’s encouraging to see additional measures put in place during the Autumn budget to ensure further uptake and reach of apprenticeships across all sectors. I believe we’ve passed a tipping point whereby apprenticeships are now a truly viable option particularly for advanced and managerial roles; however, this is only achieved through proper flexibility.
“Having successfully employed 500 apprentices over a 10-year period, we’re acutely aware of the need for constant innovation in apprenticeship models to make it an attractive option for both apprentices and businesses. Without the right flexibility and support, such as the EN:Able Futures model, many wouldn’t even consider the route.
“The proposed £50m investment in the two-year pilot is welcomed, but it must be used to address barriers to these training opportunities through innovative solutions, especially for higher level training at level 4 and above.”