Safety net set up for building apprentices

19th September 2008 at 01:00
A `clearing house' will match trainees under threat of redundancy with new employers

A rescue package has been set up to ensure construction apprentices can finish their training despite the downturn in the building industry.

John Denham, the Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, said a "clearing house" will be established to match those who are at risk of redundancy with other employers' vacancies so that they can complete their qualifications.

He said his department still believed there is a long-term demand for highly trained construction workers but steps were being taken to ensure apprentices did not drop out during the slowdown.

While building projects such as the 2012 Olympic Games and other public- funded work, including a new cross-London rail link, will continue to create jobs, the house-building market will be hard hit for the foreseeable future.

It is expected that apprentices will be diverted into green initiatives, such as home insulation, as families are encouraged to spend money on them, in some cases with subsidies that ministers have negotiated with energy providers.

The Government's continued optimism about job prospects in the industry is echoed by colleges. Ian Billyard, principal of Leeds College of Building, the country's only dedicated construction college not to be swallowed up by merger, bullishly predicts 15 per cent growth next year, partly as a result of strong relationships with building firms and a reputation beyond the highly volatile house-building market. It means students on two-year training courses can begin their studies knowing house building skills are likely to be in demand again by the time they finish.

The extent of likely redundancies among apprentices remains unknown, but the Construction Industry Training Board has been carrying out research to assess the impact of the slow-down.

Mr Denham said: "These are times of real change. We know that there are great difficulties, but also real opportunities.

"The industry today is experiencing great difficulties in house building. But look just a few years into the future; we know that we will need many more skilled people working in construction than we have today.

"In part this is because of Government investment, in the Olympics, in Crossrail, in housing, as well as in new schools, colleges and hospitals. And in part, as the Government sets the framework for new jobs in energy, from nuclear to renewable. All of this will demand more, not fewer, skilled people."

Mr Denham added: "So we have to tackle the problems of today while making sure we are prepared for the opportunities of the future. That's why we don't want to lose young, skilled trainees.

"So we have set up a clearing house, so that construction apprentices at risk of redundancy are matched with new employers to allow them to complete the remainder of their training."

A construction apprenticeship "task force" is being set up to deal with the extra demand for training which is predicted to stem from what the industry still regards as an expanding sector.

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