• The government has launched an apprenticeships advertising campaign.
• For apprentices aged 16-18 the government pays the full cost of training.
• The BMF encourages its members to take part in the government’s scheme.
• The BWF runs an apprentice-matching scheme.
• The TTF advises on accessing training funding.

In the past 20 years the shift towards directing young people into higher education has had repercussions, leading to the current shortage of skilled labour in the UK. Shadow secretary of state for universities David Willetts is even predicting that preparation for the 2012 Olympics could suffer because not enough young people are being trained as builders.

But what is the answer? We have to make it more appealing for young people to get trained in a trade and make it easier for them to do so. It used to be common practice for a school-leaver to complete an apprenticeship in order to get into their chosen trade but times have changed and the UK has seen a drop-off in numbers of people taking up placements on such schemes. Is it possible for the government, trade bodies and employers to turn this around and start using apprentice schemes again?

The government is now giving the issue a major push through an ad campaign fronted by Alan Sugar and the website which details the benefits of apprenticeships to employers and school-leavers, with plenty of advice for both.

The advantages are clear – for apprentices aged between 16-18 the government will pay all costs of training so employers have nothing to lose. The apprentices, meanwhile, learn their trade in a hands-on working environment.

Industry association support

The Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) encourages its members to take part in the government’s scheme since to put a member of staff through an NVQ qualification would normally cost up to around £1,200 but, when done as part of the apprenticeship programme, the government will foot the bill. The BMF also oversees the apprenticeships, creating the ideal division of labour: the government putting up the money, and the appropriate trade association ensuring it’s used correctly.

Other trade bodies are also keen to promote government-funded training. As part of its commitment the British Woodworking Federation runs an apprentice-matching scheme via its Wood Industry Training Forum, putting would-be apprentices in touch with member companies who are recruiting. It’s a proactive approach that saw the number of grant-aided apprenticeships among members rise by over 100 to 714 in 2007. More details are on its website

The Timber Trade Federation also sees it as a key role to encourage and help members set up apprenticeships and enhance training generally.

“We point companies to where they can find a huge amount of information,” said TTF chief executive John White. “And we complement that by also being able to identify the range of sources of funding available for training generally and advice on how to access it.”

Chandlers’ experience

Richard Skinner, commercial manager at BMF member Chandlers Building Supplies, which operates branches in Sussex and Kent, is a great supporter of the whole apprenticeships initiative. “It is a great benefit to put young staff through apprenticeships. Under the auspices of the BMF they get a very well-rounded and supervised learning programme that takes in not just technical knowledge but wider issues such as health and safety, materials handling, and merchandising. And all the time we are complementing that learning with on-the-job real experience of all the facets that the training entails. Our commitment to them as trainees is returned to us as they develop into keen, loyal staff members with a knowledge of our industry that has been gained over a far quicker period of time than would otherwise be the case.”

Chandlers employee John Dartnell went through the scheme. “I came to Chandlers straight from school and they recommended that I should apply for an apprenticeship. I have now come through the other side and I found what I was taught invaluable. It wasn’t just the basic learning which you would get on the job, I was trained up in sales, management and loads of other areas. I was able to earn a wage while getting trained at no extra cost to the company, so it was the perfect solution. I would definitely encourage more people to take advantage of the opportunity if they can.”

Proof, if proof were needed, that apprenticeships really do work. The government has stated that “UK businesses consider skills shortages and recruitment difficulties a bigger threat to performance than soaring oil prices and declining consumer spending, and more than a quarter of these rate this form of vocational training higher than any other qualification”.

The main problem seems to be awareness – an issue which the government does at least appear to be addressing through its current marketing drive, so perhaps this is the boost that the scheme needs.

For more information about how you can get the most out of the apprenticeship scheme, visit