This week saw school leavers find out their A-level results. Thousands and thousands of Sixth Form and College students nervously opening their brown envelopes which will give them their first major guide to the adult future. Although the number of top grades were down slightly on last year, many got the results they wanted, and they should all be congratulated for that.

Moreover, a record number of University places were offered to these students, which means many will sail through into the courses and campuses of their choice.

Yet, while we continue to despair about the lack of skilled youth in our industry and the wider construction sector, there was nothing about school leavers looking at a career in the trades. Something our country desperately needs.

Flawed education system

This weeks results was a perfect example of how the education system in this country is geared towards cramming every possible person through the University system, to get more and more degrees. For those wanting to be doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants, architects and so on, this is the only way, and this is perfectly fine.

But not everyone can be a doctor or a lawyer. And not everyone is cut out to go to University, even if the system tells that person that they are. So how about some attention is turned to areas of our economy that are crippling under shortages, like construction for example.

Even if we imported labour to build the 250k+ homes per year we need, it still wouldn’t be enough. We’re building less than 100k new homes per year, which is nowhere near enough to unlock a generation still stuck at home with their parents. And it’s not as if there isn’t enough demand for homes. This generation doesn’t want to stay at home, they want to get out in to the big wide world and make it on their own. But they can’t, because property prices are rising faster than they can save, partly down to not enough homes being built to cope with the demand.

So, why not look at the tens of thousands of kids leaving school at 16 or 18, and show them how a career in building, plastering, window installation, electrics etc can actually earn them a damned good wage, learn a skill for life, and be without the tens of thousands of pounds of debt that some of their friends will have to pay back at some point in their lives.

Apprenticeships not coming fast enough

One of the biggest things holding back injecting young skills into our industry and construction is lack of apprenticeship places.

Before David Cameron left office, he pledged a new tax on big business to help fund three million new apprenticeships before the end of the next Parliament in 2020. We’re in the last third of 2016, and I see it becoming highly unlikely that we’re going to have even a million places by the time of the next election.

This is a failure of Government to provide the tools to industry to help the construction sector grow. Without skilled workers, foreign sourced or home grown, the sector will struggle. The demand to build is there. The people to build are not.

For our industry specifically, we have to start importing youth into our sector soon. Whether we want to believe it or not, the demographic of our industry is old. More are retiring or selling up than are being brought in. That’s a balance that cannot last forever. That has to change.

I would love to see the education sector promote a more diverse spread of futures for students. University should never be ignored, but trades, which have been long ignored, need to have much more focus and show to students that working with your hands can bring great reward.

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