This week’s Budget contained a positive boost for skills. It was clear from the Chancellor’s statement that the Government recognises the importance of skills to the success of the wider economy – they are ‘key to unlocking growth nationally’. Philip Hammond’s ‘long economicky words’ delivered good news for the development of T-levels in England, with £20m being invested to help FE colleges prepare for their introduction; and a very welcome £34m of funding to sharpen our construction skills. With this latter commitment, the Chancellor has acknowledged the challenge we are facing in this absolutely vital sector. The skills shortages across the UK here have been well documented in recent times, with the issue being cited as one of the main barriers to the industry’s ability to successfully deliver cost effectively on future projects.  I know this from working with the construction industry, and house builders in particular, when I was Deputy Director-General of the CBI. With CITB estimating that over 230,000 new workers are needed by 2020, we must get a grip now to get anywhere near industry’s requirements to bring in new talent to help replace an ageing workforce. In addition, with Brexit changing the dynamics of our labour market, this recruitment has to be on a military scale to help meet the demand for new homes that the country needs.

The £34m of new money is therefore a positive step in the right direction. Given the scale of the challenge, nothing less than substantial investment is going to drive the kind of change we need: training many thousands of young people to learn new skills has to be funded. Spending to improve construction skills is a necessary, but not sufficient, prerequisite however. Recent Ipsos Mori research provides the context here. Amongst 11-16 year olds, the young people who we need to attract into construction apprenticeships, there is a worrying deficit. Only one in seven say they would consider pursuing an apprenticeship as opposed to A-levels and the same number – one in seven – say their school has encouraged them to pursue an apprenticeship. To put this another way, set against the many thousands of young people we are going to need to take forward apprenticeships and technical careers across the construction sector, if six out of seven do not think an apprenticeship is a good option and if six out of seven are not receiving the guidance they need to make informed choices, we are going to need some heavy duty inspiration to go alongside the funding to change perceptions and ensure we have the new boots on the ground.

It’s young people like Ashley Terron who can provide that inspiration. In 2013, after two years of WorldSkills UK training, Ashley was selected as a member of Team UK in the bricklaying competition at the Skills Olympics.  This international skills competition, which takes place every two years, sees the world’s best apprentices battle it out in over 50 different skills.  After days of intense competition to exacting world-class standards, Ashley was awarded the gold medal and his score of 89.35pc has yet to be beaten at a subsequent competition.  He is now a very successful Site Manager for Redrow, one of the UK’s biggest construction companies.

Incredibly, if Ashley had listened to the careers advice he was given at school, he might never have set foot on a building site. On hearing he wanted to be an apprentice bricklayer, his teacher pulled him to one side and said ‘What are you doing? You’re better than that’. Ashley had his heart set on pursuing his apprenticeship and the teacher’s guidance seemed to wholly ignore what Ashley knew to be true: at 19 he would be earning £50k if he made the grade. If that’s the experience of one of this country’s most talented apprentices, the need for fresh perspectives is self-evident.

Ashley and other past and future members of Team UK are able to offer those fresh perspectives in a variety of construction skills including bricklaying, cabinet-making, carpentry, joinery and wall and floor tiling. Our mission at WorldSkills UK is to get their voices heard in schools in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland so that they can help transform the lives of others, the way their lives have been transformed. Our work with the Careers & Enterprise Company in schools in England trialling peer-to-peer careers advice has resulted in 76% of young people studying for GCSEs feeling more motivated and inspired about their futures. Relevant, real and relatable experience is the key to informed career choices.

So with the Government doing its bit by putting in the investment needed, let’s work together and ensure young people have all the facts they need to take advantage of the fantastic opportunities construction careers offer. And at the same time we help fulfil the ambition to create the new homes many people need.

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