Apprentice construction workers are to be given proper contracts and decent salaries in an attempt to reduce the notoriously high trainee drop-out rate which has undermined the building industry.
The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), the UK's largest building trades training organisation, this week launched an industry-endorsed apprenticeship scheme backed by a #163;300,000 nationwide advertising campaign aimed at encouraging school-leavers to choose construction as a career.
The Construction Apprenticeship Scheme (CAS) has been developed in alliance with the employer organisations Construction Confederation and Federation of Master Builders.
The scheme, the first of its kind, will offer trainees a minimum two-year contract with an employer, an incremental salary and cover their college fees for the national vocational qualification levels 2 and 3. Parents must also sign the contracts if the youth is under 18. Each employer who registers a trainee on the CAS will be paid a grant of up to Pounds 6,500 over a three-year period.
Steady economic growth and a boom in house-building have left the construction industry facing a shortage of skilled workers.
But the sector has been fighting a losing battle against massive drop-out rates in recent years which peaked at 50 per cent among CITB trainees. Thousands of disaffected school-leavers who enrolled on government youth training schemes gave up before they had honed even basic skills.
A recent Further Education Funding Council report noted "concern over a growing skills shortage at all levels in the industry" and the Department for Education and Employment predicts that demand for construction workers is expected to rise by 15 per cent between 1993 and 2001. Government-sponsored modern apprenticeships have failed to attract sufficient numbers to meet the expected increase in demand.
CITB spokeswoman Janice Bradfield said: "We have had a drop-out rate of up to 50 per cent in the past which has cost a huge amount of taxpayers' money and was extremely wasteful. Now, we want to train fewer people and be more selective of the ones who really see a future in it."
The radio advertising campaign, spearheaded by Channel 4's Big Breakfast presenter Johnny Vaughan, will feature five young construction workers talking about their experiences. The newspaper and magazine advertisements picture young men and women in front of major projects they have worked on.
The advantage of the CAS for employers is that it will involve comparatively less bureaucracy than the Government-backed youth training schemes.
Keith Aldis, director of training at the Construction Confederation, said:"Once we have halved our drop-out rate we will be addressing how kids are taught at school. They are so often not tailored to work in the real world and that has obviously been a problem for employers in the past. The CAS will at least show a commitment to more continuous employment by both sides."
To secure a more qualified workforce, the CITB wants 80 per cent of its workers trained to NVQ Level 2 by 2000 - up by a fifth on last year.
With millennium projects currently boosting the industry's fortunes, the CITB estimates that construction employers will need an extra 30,000 carpenters, and 17,500 bricklayers by 2001.
But the CITB, founded 10 years ago to encourage better understanding of building in schools and colleges, and which now has 122 curriculum centres,has seen the number of its traineeships slashed by the Training and Enterprise Councils from 9,500 to 6,000 this year.