Union Concern at rise in 'Dead-end' courses

Unite, Construction workers' largest union, has uncovered that thousands of young people are being placed on so-called 'dead-end' classroom-based construction courses. Unite is calling for the people concerned to urgently rethink their priorities to prevent talent being lost to the industry.

The figures, obtained from the government’s Skills Funding Agency, reveal the number of classroom-based construction courses increased by 14% last year, totally dwarfing the number of apprentices beginning their training. The increase in classroom courses comes at a time when the construction skills gap is widening rapidly.

Unite has released the figures – gained by a Freedom of Information request – on the first day of national apprenticeship week. The construction courses are described as “dead-end” because trainees are only usually able to achieve a technical qualification, as they don’t have access to onsite training.

The only qualification recognised in construction is the NVQ and this can’t be achieved without substantial site experience. An NVQ or equivalent qualification is necessary to acquire a Construction Sector Certification Scheme (CSCS) card which is usually required to work on construction sites. In most cases, people undertaking classroom training have no route to achieve an NVQ.

The high number of classroom courses has a major effect on the number of young people recorded as NEETs (not in education, employment or training). In 2015/16 a total of 192,500 people began a classroom-based construction course, compared to 167,000 in 2014/15 a 14% increase. However, during the same 12 months, just 21,460 people began a construction apprenticeship. Therefore, 89% of people beginning a construction course are undertaking potentially “dead-end” training.

Unite acting general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “These figures are truly shocking. For whatever reason, we find ourselves in the terrible situation of increasingly offering young people a classroom construction course but also in effect denying them the chance to acquire the qualifications needed to enter the industry in a skilled role.

“Classroom-based construction teaching has a vital role to play in the training of construction apprentices. What is urgently needed is a refocusing of resources to ensure that money is more effectively invested in boosting the number of genuine apprenticeships, so that a far higher number of young people can acquire the skills and qualifications to enter the industry.”

“We need to build an effective alliance including: Unite, employers, FE colleges, apprentice providers and the government to boost apprenticeships and ensure young people are able to access meaningful courses.”

Unite has been at the forefront of increasing the number and diversity of construction apprentices. The union has secured agreement for 500 civil engineering apprentices (the traditional biblical trades) to be trained on the Hinkley Point development with a further agreement for the engineering construction side (mechanical & electrical) of one apprentice for every 10 workers on site. Unite is committed to negotiating a similar deal for HS2.

Source: Construction manager magazine

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