The Government must review its approach to apprenticeships following new statistics published which show that construction apprenticeship starts have plummeted by almost half.

According to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), in March 2019 there were only 694 Construction, Planning and the Built Environment apprenticeship starts compared with 1,247 in March 2018.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said “Construction apprenticeship starts have suffered a serious hit and we now need decisive action from the Government in order to reverse this decline. The Government must accept the recommendation made in the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, to make provision for full funding, at all ages, for first qualifications at Level 2 and 3. The Government is uniquely placed to drive the apprenticeship agenda, and if Ministers want to achieve their target of three million apprenticeship starts by the end of next year, they must review apprenticeship policy, including the Apprenticeship Levy.”

“Of course the construction industry itself must do more to rally around a shared ambition to promote the industry and all its merits, such as innovation, design and entrepreneurship. The drop in starts by almost half should sound the alarm that we aren’t doing enough to get the message out there. If we don’t address the skills shortage by increasing training and apprenticeships, the construction industry won’t be able to expand and grow. Introducing a mandatory licensing scheme for UK construction could help create the culture change our industry needs by improving our reputation through increased quality and professionalism and thus make us more attractive to new entrants.”

Construction apprentices will go on to earn thousands of pounds more, every year, than many of their university-educated counterparts, according to the latest research by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

Small building firms across the UK were asked what they pay their tradespeople and the average annual salaries were as follows:

  1. Site managers earn £51,266
  2. Plumbers earn £48,675
  3. Supervisors earn £48,407
  4. Electricians earn £47,265
  5. Civil engineering operatives earn £44,253
  6. Steel fixers earn £44,174
  7. Roofers earn £42,303
  8. Bricklayers earn £42,034
  9. Carpenters and joiners earn £41,413
  10. Plasterers earn £41,045
  11. Scaffolders earn £40,942
  12. Floorers earn £39,131
  13. Plant operatives earn £38,409
  14. Painters and decorators earn £34,587
  15. General construction operatives earn £32,392

The highest reported annual salary for bricklayers in London was £90,000 a year. However, the UK’s university graduates earn the following average annual salaries:

  • Pharmacists earn £42,252
  • Dental practitioners earn £40,268
  • Architects earn £38,228
  • Teachers earn £37,805
  • Chartered and certified accountants earn £37,748
  • Midwives earn £36,188
  • Veterinarians earn £36,446
  • Physiotherapists earn £32,065
  • Nurses earn £31,867

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said “Money talks and when it comes to annual salaries, a career in construction trumps many university graduate roles. The average university graduate in England earns £32,000 a year whereas our latest research shows that your average bricky or roofer is earning £42,000 a year across the UK. In London, a bricklayer is commanding wages of up to £90,000 a year. Pursuing a career in construction is therefore becoming an increasingly savvy move. University students in England will graduate with an average £50,800 of debt, according to The Institute for Fiscal Studies, while apprentices pass the finish line completely debt-free. Not only that, apprentices earn while they learn, taking home around £17,000 a year. We are therefore calling on all parents, teachers and young people, who too-often favour academic education, to give a career in construction serious consideration.”

“The construction industry is in the midst of an acute skills crisis and we are in dire need of more young people, including women and ethnic minorities, to join us. Our latest research shows that more than two-thirds of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers and 63 per cent are having problems hiring carpenters. This is a stark reminder of how the Government’s housing targets could be scuppered by a lack of skilled workers. The FMB is committed to working with the Government to improve the quality and quantity of apprenticeships because the only way we will build a sustainable skills base is by training more young people, and to a high standard.”

Construction professionals have stressed how despite the fallout following Brexit, we must focus our efforts on combatting the looming skills crisis by prioritising the introduction of new initiatives to attract workers into the various sectors that span the construction industry.

Thinking ahead

Chris Wood, CEO of Develop Training Limited, the UK’s leading training specialist in the utilities sector, commented “The skills shortage in the UK is a catastrophe waiting to happen, one that literally threatens to turn out Britain’s lights. A solution to the twin problems of a chronic skills shortage in our utilities industry and high youth unemployment is obvious – train young people to take the places of the ageing workforce, but it just isn’t happening at anything like the rate that it needs to be. The new PM and her Cabinet must make it a government priority to look into ways to correct this issue as a matter of extreme urgency.

“As householders and businesses in the UK wonder about a post-Brexit future, they should remember that the utilities sector is still facing a potentially devastating skills shortage. The sector is constantly on a recruitment drive but is simply not receiving the response it requires.

“We all need confidence that our lights will stay on, our heating will continue to keep our houses warm and our taps keep providing running water, but the day is fast approaching when there will simply not be enough workers to do these vital jobs.”

Home-grown talent

Brian Berry of the Federation of Master Builders has also echoed concerns post-Brexit regarding the retention of skilled EU workers and the training of new talent. Berry said “We need to ensure that we invest in our own home-grown talent through apprenticeship training. We need to train more construction apprentices so we are not overly reliant on migrant workers from Europe or further afield. That’s why it’s so important that the Government gets the funding framework right for apprenticeships – when you consider that this whole policy area is currently in flux, and then you add Brexit into the mix, it’s no exaggeration to say that a few wrong moves by the Government could result in the skills crisis becoming a skills catastrophe. The next few years will bring unprecedented challenges to the construction and house building sector, and it’s only through close collaboration between the Government and industry that we’ll be able to overcome them.”


Skanska, who recently won the Judges’ Supreme Award and Diversity Champion of the Year Award, have suggested that we need ensure the culture of our industry is both inviting and nurturing in order to alleviate the shortage long-term.

Mike Putnam, President and CEO Skanska UK, said “We believe that a diverse and inclusive culture is key to creating a successful and sustainable business. It will help us to create teams where people think differently, while making them better placed to understand the needs of the communities in which we work.

“It is through the way that our people embrace diversity and create an open and welcoming environment that we are able to work collaboratively – with our customers, joint venture and supply chain partners.”

A South East based office refurbishment, design and build company is calling for a greater push to get more young people into the construction industry.

RAP Interiors, who are based in Kent, serve a number of clients in the South East, also working into London – so a local company with a national service, and have been growing rapidly. Part of this growth has meant that young people have been taken on as Apprentices to fill new important roles.

RAP Interiors Design Director Julie Anderson said “As we have grown, we have been able to take on young people as apprentices to train from scratch. It has been a challenge finding the right people to do this but we have been lucky and found three great employees who are closely mentored and beginning to take on more responsibility.”

“The problem is that many young people are not being made aware of the benefits of getting into work via this route, and perhaps being encouraged to stay on into 6th form and then go to University. Apprenticeships need to be promoted as a good career choice. They offer a greater chance for young people to hit the ground into the world of work, learn a trade, earn some money and hopefully build a career.”

“They also learn about working in a business setting which includes everything from people-skills, answering the phone to talking in meetings and representing the company. This is often missed when young people move on to further education.”

The three apprentices that were recently taken on are now part of the team. Marcus has become a Site Foreman but qualified in a Multi skilled Apprenticeship covering all trades, Conor is training to be a Quantity Surveyor and Estimator and finally, Ryan Clarke, who was taken on as a Digital Marketing Apprentice, has also been appointed Ambassador for Maidstone via training provider 3aaa.

Ryan said that working at RAP and becoming an Ambassador has built his confidence: “I have learned a lot as a digital marketing apprentice at RAP and this has helped build my confidence in the work-place. I am now comfortable talking in meetings and representing the company. I didn’t want to go to university and get into debt or sit around at home playing video games. I was made aware of a digital marketing course at 3aaa. This seemed like a good idea and I applied – which then led to me being taken on as an Apprentice at RAP. Following this I was surprised when the training provider 3aaa offered me the role of apprentice ambassador and I now go and speak to other young people about becoming an apprentice – which I really enjoy.”

A spokesperson from 3aaa said on Ryan’s appointment: “When Ryan first sent his application through to the Maidstone Academy we were impressed with his skill-set and his passion for digital marketing, he was so keen and eager to find an Apprenticeship, and committed to the programme immediately. Ryan has been chosen to be the Ambassador for the 3aaa Maidstone Academy for his continued effort and dedication, he is an absolute pleasure to have in the Academy, he gets on well with his peers and often offers his support to the class.”

Julie from RAP, says there is a real problem with getting the right people in the construction industry.

“We can see that the industry is improving with new construction taking place and more jobs being made available. This is a good sign that the economic climate is getting better. The challenge is that many young people fail to realise that there are a number of careers they can take up in this industry.”

“It is important that we have enough plumbers and carpenters, but it is also just as important to have marketing, IT and Design specialists. There is a huge crisis in the construction industry where there is a lack of people available and the average age is 55 on site. However, this also means it is good news for those who are qualified as they can demand up to £250 a day in certified trades.”

Colleges are some of the key providers of Apprenticeship training. East Kent college support the view that trained workers in construction can earn a good wage.

Jane Hughes, the head of East Kent College’s Virtual Campus, who oversees the apprenticeship offering said: “In Kent the construction industry is a huge employer, providing around 15 per cent of the county’s jobs. East Kent College works alongside business to identify skills shortages, and currently construction is one sector which is crying out for well trained, skilled professionals.”

“In much of East Kent a bricklayer with the correct training can earn up to £180 a day due to shortages in skilled staff. The skills shortage in construction is a growing issue, and one which makes the industry an ideal choice for those who want a good career.”

“East Kent College offers a wide variety of technical, vocational apprenticeship options to help young people break into the construction industry, and build a solid career for their future.”

Another provider, Mid Kent College, have set up the MidKent College JobShop to help. Assistant Principle Peter Webb said: “Many of our construction contacts in businesses across Kent entered their trade through an apprenticeship. As a result they understand the benefits that apprentices bring to their organisations, and recognise the fantastic opportunities that completing an apprenticeship can open up for young people.”

“We set up the MidKent College JobShop to help employers promote their vacancies to our work-ready candidates, and we work hard to promote the full range of career paths available in the construction sector. Construction companies need trade professionals, but also managers, administrators, accountants, customer service representatives and more. We see it as part of our responsibility to help young people appreciate the breadth of options available to them, and to provide them with the right skills and qualifications to make a positive impact at work in whatever role they function.”

RAP Interiors will continue their drive to support young people. Julie said: “The right foundations are being laid to train young people, we just need them to join the right schemes and take notice of the different jobs available in construction. Otherwise the skills crisis will only get worse.”

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Rap interiors

With National Apprenticeship Week kicking off today, FMB have made an interesting announcement. Nearly 60% of SME construction owners started their career as an apprentice, according to new research from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) ahead of National Apprenticeship Week.

The research also shows that more than half of those bosses were running their own company within just seven years of completing their apprenticeship training, and that 98% of construction SME owners value an apprenticeship over a degree when looking for new staff.

Chief Executive of the FMB, Brian Berry said “The construction industry is ideally suited to a young person with heaps of ambition and an entrepreneurial spirit. Our research demonstrates that a construction apprenticeship is the perfect springboard for a successful and rewarding career, with more than half of construction SMEs being run by people who started out as an apprentice. Of those who went on to start their own businesses, more than one in two reached that goal within a mere seven years of completing their apprenticeship training, showing that you can go from being a brickie to a business owner in no time at all.”

“Even if running your own firm isn’t what you aspire to do, a construction apprenticeship can nevertheless provide the foundation for a highly rewarding career. Almost 80% of our SME construction bosses said that employment in the sector offers high levels of job satisfaction with tangible results and 87% believe an apprenticeship teaches useful and practical skills. What’s more, by the age of 23, a bricklayer with five years’ experience can earn up to £31,000 and rising in some cases to £52,000 in London. Given the high levels of university tuition fees, young people have every reason to properly consider a more vocational education and pursuing a career in construction looks an increasingly shrewd move.”

Tony Passmore, Managing Director of the Passmore Group – an FMB member firm – added “I’ve been working in the construction industry for a long time now and I’ve lost count of the number of young people who I’ve seen start out at the bottom, put in the hard work during their apprenticeship, and then rise up through the ranks to set up their own firm. Many of them wouldn’t have guessed they’d soon be running their own business when they first entered the construction industry and started their apprenticeship. And for those who aren’t keen on running their own firm, most jobs in the construction industry give you the freedom to work anywhere in the country – or better still, anywhere in the world.”

Did you start your career as an apprentice? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Recent studies by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) have suggested that a third of small construction firms are actually being put off from offering apprenticeships due to the bureaucracy involved. The report, entitled “Defusing the skills time bomb”, explains further.

Chief Executive of the FMB, Brian Berry commented “The construction industry is in the midst of a skills crisis which can only be solved if more employers take on apprentices. The Government wants to deliver three million apprentices over the next five years and this new report sheds some light on how this can be achieved. Our 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. 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. 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. 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.”

The FMB isn’t the only body voicing concerns over announcements made in the Autumn Statement. The British Chamber of Commerce have also called for greater clarity on the apprenticeship levy.

Executive Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), Dr Adam Marshall said “Businesses want to tackle skills shortages and drive up productivity, but the apprenticeship levy risks having the reverse effect.”

“A lack of clarity around the scope, rate and scale is having a huge impact on business confidence. Many firms have decided to put training and investment on hold, and are concerned about the knock on effects of the levy on their cash flow, existing training schemes, and the bottom line. It’s important that this levy doesn’t undermine other types of vocational training, which could be better suited to some businesses.”

“While businesses back the government’s drive to boost apprenticeships, they have real concerns about the current approach. The government must focus on improving the quality of apprenticeships to make them more attractive to employers, and provide clarity on how they will be paid for as soon as possible.”

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