Opinion Piece by Elaine Lewis, Managing Director,
11 June 2021
Finding a solution to bridge skills gaps, could apprenticeships be the answer?
With an ever-growing skill shortage among architects, engineers and construction professionals, we are increasingly aware, as an industry, of the need to encourage young people into our arena.
But the popularity of the traditional university route is dwindling – and those who do choose to study are still at least three years away from joining the workforce of the built environment. With the AEC industry expecting a gap in the workforce of over 150,000 individuals by 2022, we must find a more effective and efficient solution.
Growing popularity of apprenticeships
The discussion around further education has been going on for some time – and particularly in the last few years the question has been asked: what is the best route into work for school and college leavers?
As a business owner, I have often spoken to young people making this crucial decision and the conversation has increasingly become one about debt and finances.
When I went to university myself, I was of course eager for a qualification – but it was less my thirst for knowledge that drove me there, and more my keenness to leave home and learn more about the world.
Whilst university is a great way to earn valuable life-knowledge, it is also a place to gain experiences you will not encounter anywhere else.
However, more recently it appears that potential students are beginning to weigh up their options – citing the debt that comes with university education as a very common reason to size up alternatives. Given that the cost of attending university has increased by over 900% in the past 25 years, it is understandable that its popularity is waning.
Those currently looking to apply for university are also coming out of a year of working from home and online learning during the pandemic – and young people are beginning to question the value of ‘education for education’s sake’.
Apprenticeships offer an alternative to classroom learning, providing real-world work experience and, crucially, the opportunity to earn while you learn.
Apprenticeships in the AEC industry
The UK Government has earmarked billions of pounds for infrastructure over the next few years. It is a huge boost for the industry, but projects are multiplying faster than those able to work on them, and we are already seeing a gap in the workforce.
My own path into the industry was completely circumstantial – as, like many others, I was not aware of the opportunities available. Over half of young people going into the workforce say they were never given any information about building, construction or infrastructure, and as a result the common presumptions remain the only insight they have into these sectors.
Not only are there misconceptions around the AEC industry being a male dominated field, and one that relies heavily on manual labour, but there is also the prevalent idea that training to work in construction requires several years of formal learning in a classroom setting.
Apprenticeships offer students the chance to get into work sooner – which removes the debt issue entirely, whilst getting more people into construction sooner and addressing the skills deficit before it becomes a major problem.
A new route with Class of Your Own
Class of Your Own (COYO) offers DEC – a three-level design, engineering and construction qualification that delivers an education link for young people from the age of 11 through to 18 and beyond. COYO Founder, Alison Watson has been passionate about getting young people into the industry for several years – and COYO has started to make great strides in both clarifying the truth about what it is like to work in construction, and helping to build the necessary skills.
Cadventure has recently formed a partnership with COYO, helping to educate teachers in technology and software skills, as well as making the subject matter interesting and attractive to young people. From an outside perspective, it is all too easy to overlook how much the construction industry impacts every aspect of our lives. It is where we live, how we shop, how we travel, how we work – its reach is enormous, and great architecture and design can change lives.
A look to the future
In terms of apprenticeships, one of the things that will stimulate the adoption in the industry and in general is government investment. We have an apprentice on our team, and the government pays 95% of the cost of their training. They will come out with a recognised qualification, following rigorous assessment – as well as real hands-on business experience on their CV from the outset.
The only way to attract more young people into the AEC industry is to first bust the myths of what the roles actually entail – and to then offer a multitude of ways to train and learn, ensuring we are meeting the needs of every young person who has an interest in becoming part of the built environment.