The latest data shows that apprenticeships within the construction industry are on the rise again for the first time in six years. However, more still needs to be done to improve diversity across the sector.
Research by Protrade, the UK-leading supplier of premium power tools and consumables, shows that there were approximately 26,100 new apprenticeships started in the sector between 2021-22, the first annual increase since 2016-17.
As part of that data, ethnic minority representation continues to grow, with a 6.47% representation in that overall figure – its highest point ever. While female apprenticeship representation declined slightly to 7.35% over the last 12 months, although this figure remains better than the recorded findings from the three years between 2016 and 2019.
With regards to age uptake, 19-24 remains the most prominent age for apprenticeship starts within the construction industry, although the number of people aged 25-34 that have moved into apprenticeship roles has risen to its highest number in six years.
Speaking about the latest data, Craig Sanders, Joint Managing Director at Protrade, said: “The construction industry has continued to move forward despite the pandemic. That wasn’t the case for a lot of industries and, perhaps, people viewed construction as a more solid career path, that it was recession and more pandemic-proof.
“It’s easy to see that being a factor, why young people decided to look more into a career in construction and why we have seen this uplift in apprentice roles being taken over the last 12 months.
“But this doesn’t tell the whole story. Certainly what we are seeing is that the construction sector is slowly becoming more inclusive. But there is still a long way with many more hurdles to overcome in order to be at the same level as other leading industries with regards to diversity.”
Data examined… What are the contributing factors to rising apprenticeships across the industry?
As of half a century ago, one-third of teenage boys in the UK entered apprenticeships after leaving school. However, fast forward to the modern day, one in 20 young people between the ages of 16 and 18 are apprentices, according to research economists, Imran Tahir and Simon Field.
Last year, a report by the IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) found that there had been a 72% decrease in the number of entry-level apprenticeship uptake across England since 2014-15.
Focusing specifically on the construction industry, Des Duddy, Joint Managing Director at Protrade, believes there were three key factors contributing to the declining uptake of apprenticeships. This is what he had to say.
Cuts in Government funding
“The Government funding was greater a few years ago compared to what it is now. That is accurate from our own experiences of taking on apprentices. Funding and grants have been reduced, impacting the number of apprenticeship roles across the UK, not just within the construction industry.”
COVID-19, Brexit, and the war in Ukraine
“COVID is another factor to consider. Even within our own business, it was difficult to tell what was going to happen from one day to the next. While the industry remained buoyant, it has also been affected by the war in Ukraine and Brexit. There’s been a lot of uncertainty.”
A demand to get the job done now
“There is also time for training to consider. A business can get an apprentice in but the reality is that it will take a year or two before they are fully up to speed. Most businesses opt to avoid that scenario, preferring to get someone in who can get the job done now.
“Remote working also had a bigger impact on that because very few businesses had the capacity to train during the pandemic. During that initial period of remote working, which happened overnight, apprentices weren’t getting the training they needed. That has increased as more people returned to the office but, again, it was a factor for why we saw a drop off between 2020 and 2021.”
A career in construction is appealing to females as more opportunities open up
Back in 2019-20, female representation across construction apprenticeships hit an all-time high at 7.88% – despite apprenticeship uptake continuing to decline overall.
During that 12 months, there were approximately 21,900 new apprentices in the sector, with 1,726 of that figure being women, according to the data.
That figure has since dipped year-on-year – first to 7.48% (2020-21) and then to 7.35% in the latest findings. However, with 26,100 new apprentices in the past 12 months, the latest percentage shows that nearly 2,000 females make up the total.
Craig Sanders believes that the growing diversification of opportunities and age-old taboos that have tainted the industry historically are making construction more accessible to women than ever before.
He said: “Women have always been in construction, but for a long time they’ve only been associated with roles like architecture and design. There’s a reason there has been a stigma about women and construction and comes down to the fact that, for a long time, women weren’t often seen on-site.
“There has definitely been a shift. Women are finding themselves in roles where it’s not just about designing something but building it, too. As more and more women enter the industry, the old stereotypes are being removed.
“Gender equality has come a long way in the UK over the last decade and far more businesses, more than ever before, are seeking equality in the work environment. That itself will only encourage more women to follow suit.”
Ethnic minority representation grows for the fifth time in six years but more still needs to be done
The story behind ethnic minority representation among construction apprenticeships is a very similar tale to that of females.
Back in 2016, ethnic minorities made up only 4.37% of the sector’s new apprentices. That figure, however, had grown year-on-year until 2019-20, when it hit 6.34%.
And after a dip to 5.98% during COVID-19 in the 2020-21 findings, ethnic minority representation has reached its highest point in the latest annual numbers at 6.47% (approximately 1,688 apprentices in the 26,100 total), a demonstration that change is occurring – albeit at a slow rate.
Speaking about the latest findings, Des Duddy feels that we will only continue to see growth in ethnic minority representation within the industry.
He said: “Construction companies seeking equality and diversity in their workforce will no doubt have had an impact on the growth in ethnic minority representation when recruiting apprentices.
“And while it’s fantastic to see the figures moving in the right direction more can be done to ensure that the industry is representative of societal makeup. If we’re not careful, a vicious circle can develop where a workforce with a largely similar background, only appears welcoming to others with that background.
“Our industry is making progress, but we need to keep our foot on the gas to ensure we are all intentionally inclusive.”
More still needs to be done to make apprenticeships more appealing to young people and more diverse
There remains a stereotype around the word apprenticeship.
It’s always been assumed by young people that it isn’t well-paid and you get the worst jobs. With that in mind, more needs to be done to promote the opportunity of a rewarding environment and a long career in the construction industry.
There’s a saying ‘patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting’. Being both committed and patient are essential ingredients to having a successful apprenticeship because learning and developing skills takes time. We need to encourage more young people not to sacrifice a long-term career by taking up short-term roles in logistics and warehousing for immediate financial reward.
With the country currently in a cost-of-living crisis, that situation is being exacerbated and fuelled. It’s a difficult choice for people who want to learn a skill perhaps but the prevailing thought is that they have a family to feed and a home to heat.
This research that Protrade has analysed is from publically available Government data (direct data link here). The search was limited to the following industries:
- Construction, Planning and the Built Environment
- Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies
The latest data for 2021/22 spans the time period of August 2021 to July 2022.
Ethnic minorities (excluding white minorities) account for the following:
Find out more about Protrade here
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