Tapping into training potential

16 October 2018

Apprenticeship reforms offer the timber sector the opportunity to transform a training and skills development landscape that is currently excellent in parts, but still fragmented, writes Martin James, co-founder of woodworking, furniture and merchant sector training provider Didac

There’s some great training going on in the timber sector, as evidenced by the entrants for the 2018 TTJ Career Development Awards, for which I was a judge.

Shortlisting the finalists was difficult enough, but our angst in separating the worthy winners, Sarah Mather from International Timber and Aron Ford from Howarth Timber, in the under 25 and over 25 categories respectively from the runner-up entrants was palpable.

Without exception, the career development schemes devised by the employers are some of the best I have seen in the 21 years I’ve been involved in woodworking and merchanting skills training; and I know of many more terrifi c schemes devised by trade associations, colleges, work-based training providers, sector alliances and, of course, employers themselves.

However, the landscape of training and skills development across the sector is patchy and frequently disadvantages micro- to medium-sized enterprises that operate within and downstream of the timber sector. But with the apprenticeship reforms there is a window of opportunity to change all of that.

The reforms have forced the hand of employers to create Apprenticeship Standards, to provide more relevant training for their sectors, several of which are highly relevant to timber.

Through the 2017 funding reforms and the requirement for 20% off-the-job training, there is also a dramatic increase in the amount of training actually carried out in some apprenticeships.

The platform now exists for the timber sector to increase apprenticeships because the funding restrictions that disadvantaged learners over 19 have been removed, as have ‘prior-learning’ restrictions. This means employers can now recruit graduates who can undertake a relevant Apprenticeship Standard funded to at least 90%.

That’s all well and good, I hear you say, but how can I find out about this? How can we get involved? Dare I say, the answer could be as simple as having an 0800 … phone line for the sector, with someone knowledgeable on the end.

Builders’ merchants and the electrical distributors have effectively done just that, and the rewards are tangible. They have points of contact for employers directing them to the appropriate training service to meet their needs, be it short courses, on-line courses or longer-term training, such as apprenticeships or degree level training. They have tied in recruitment, funded training and apprentice levy management services.

Perhaps most significantly, they have also set up Apprentice Training Agencies (ATAs), which are a tried and tested approach to recruit and retain apprentices.

I encourage the timber sector to build on these examples by creating a focal point for connecting employers with talent pools of school leavers and graduates, who can be recruited if there is widely available, good quality structured training and development programmes.

And let’s not forget the thousands of existing employees, many of whom are hungry to upskill, so they can progress their own careers, while meeting the ever more rigorous demands of the timber sector.

Martin James