Apprenticeships are the lifeblood for construction’s future

National Apprenticeship Week is between 5-11 February. Funding and Learning Manager Janette Welton-Pai explains why this week matters to the future of the construction industry.

According to figures published by CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) in 2023, an additional 225,000 people are forecast to be needed in the UK construction sector by 2027. That equates to an increase of almost 45,000 people per year over the five years from 2023 – 2027 to meet anticipated industry output.

The figures are part of CITB’s annual Construction Skills Network (CSN) forecasts which provides insights into the construction economy and its changing workforce requirements. They highlight significant and ongoing recruitment and training challenges the sector faces.

Quite simply, our future depends on attracting and upskilling many more people. This puts National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) into sharp focus as an opportunity to showcase the industry and attract the best.

While in the past there may have been misperceptions about apprenticeships based on outdated stereotypes, this has changed. Willmott Dixon’s own approach has evolved massively, to a point where apprenticeships are integral to developing skills and supporting career mobility for our people.

To do this, we use funding from the Apprenticeship Levy to access an array of apprenticeships for our people. This pathway of learning is not only for people at the start of their careers; it is also available for people already established in their roles who want to turbo-charge their opportunities with new skills and qualifications.

A shift in how we upskill tomorrow’s leaders

We place a lot of emphasis on our management trainee programme as the foundation for a new generation of future leaders. There’s no better illustration than Graham Dundas, our new CEO, who started on the programme in 1998.

Success means adapting. In recent years, we have moved away from registering all management trainees for degree courses to now include apprenticeships. So now many trainees are registered for apprenticeships at levels 4 – 6 (equivalent to degree). This includes Construction Site Management, Quantity Surveying technician, Design and Construction Management and the Construction Site Supervisor apprenticeships.

However, as mentioned, it’s not just about people at the start of their careers. Apprenticeships are becoming important in supporting our business priorities. An example is our data apprenticeship, which is being delivered by Corndel and Imperial College Business School. In January 2024, 12 of our people started the level 3 Data driven apprenticeship programme, following the success of recent learners who completed the level 4 Data analyst apprenticeship.

This shows how apprenticeships can meet the changing skills landscape in an era of unprecedented technological innovation and change. We’re on a journey to establish a common culture to use data to its full potential, which this apprenticeship neatly serves.

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Apprenticeships are allowing our people to progress their careers at different levels, and as a company that wants its people to feel challenged and able to enjoy a pathway for their own personal development, this is important.

Retaining the best people

Apprenticeships help us develop potential and retain talent. Our focus on using apprenticeships to support mid-career upskilling and mobility has seen us register people for HR support at level 3, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Practitioner at level 4 and Digital and Technology Solutions Professional at level 6.

This was recognised in November 2023, when we achieved a second Gold award from the 5% club for our ‘earn and learn’ programmes.

So with the national spotlight on apprenticeships, it’s a timely reminder of the role they play in addressing recruitment, skills and career progression. Certainly at Willmott Dixon, they are a vital way we remain an employer of choice and a key element of how we help our people enjoy what we term a ‘career of a lifetime’.