Remember the flagship apprenticeship scheme announced by then Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015? The plan was to create an extra three million apprenticeship places by 2020, with the aim to supply trades and industries with the next generation of talent and people power. This was to be paid for by a levy (a small percentage of something around 0.5%) on big business.

Sounds great. But it’s nearly 2018 and I think it’s fair to say that in our industry at least, we’re not seeing any kind of flow of young blood and trainees coming in to replace the outgoing generation.

In fact, the whole thing has taken a gigantic step backwards. It was announced last week that new apprenticeship starts had fallen a massive 59%. With two years left on this five year plan, it looks like yet another Government scheme is about to crumble and fail.

Road to nowhere

Between the months of May and July, just 48,000 people started an apprenticeship. In the same period last year that number was more than double, at 117,000.

The levy to get the scheme kickstarted aimed to raise £2.5bn to pay for it. Any business with a wage bill over £3m would have to pay this levy, and it was estimated only 2% of businesses would be affected.

Yet, nearly three years into the plan, the number of people starting an apprenticeship is going backwards fast. Some have said that this is a temporary blip whilst the levy fees filter through. Some have said that like the Green Deal, the scheme is far too complicated, with little benefits to companies.

The plan is going nowhere, in fact on the face of it it seems to be making things worse. For the window industry, which is already suffering from chronic shortages of skills in all sorts of areas, this is nothing short of a disaster.

The industry is in the midst of an older, skilled generation which is going into retirement. The business owners and trades people that this sector has been fuelled on for the last few decades is now in it’s last throes, and there is no obvious flow of new people coming in to replace them. If this imbalance continues, it is quite possible we could see companies start to close doors. Not because of a lack of business, but due to a lack of actual people.

DGB Brexit

No obvious solution

This scheme, as far as I’m concerned, is going to go the same way as the Green Deal. It’s been poorly organised, and if you read the various media reports, companies seem to think the same. Three million new apprenticeship places need to be created by 2020. We are nowhere near that, and in the couple of years that remain, it is almost certain that target will not be met.

The other problem I foresee, is that there is no obvious solution to the crisis we’re in. Window and door installation is not seen as a glamorous trade, despite the better ones out there making very good money. Selling of our products is still in the shadow of stereotypes and dodgy reputations. There is no clear pull for people to move into our industry. Until we genuinely get around that problem, we’re going to be continually under-resourced for a very long time.

In the long run, this will eventually hit things like productivity, research and development and growth in general. I have had people tell me privately in the last twelve months that they have had to turn work away as they have been unable to find the skilled people required to get the work done. If we’re already at the stage, then it’s fair to say we’re at crisis point.

In the wider construction arena, we couldn’t import enough people from around the world to build what we need if we wanted to. The Government announced during the budget that the UK was to build on average at least 300,000 new homes in the next few years. Personally I don’t think that’s anywhere near enough, but still, I’m not sure we even have enough skilled people to build 300,000 homes per year.

I don’t know how we’re going to get around this. The people left doing the work will be able to command much higher per-week wages, which is good for them, but will push the price of projects up further. Waiting times will only go north, and I’m concerned about the build quality coming out of the construction sector if we push our trades people too hard.

It’s a head scratcher this one.

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