While last month’s Budget commitment by the Government to create 40,000 new apprenticeship places is welcome, the Government and clients have to show more commitment to supporting training if traditional skills such as stonemasonry are to be retained.
That is the message from Bernard Burns, Managing Director of Cathedral Works Organisation (CWO), the stone and historic buildings specialists in Chichester, Sussex.
CWO have consistently had three to six apprentices training with them at any one time over many decades and have championed training in the stone sector.
But, says Bernard, it costs £90,000 to train an apprentice over three years.
“With clients driving down costs, commercial competition in the construction industry is already leading to many companies significantly reducing their training budgets, especially in the specialist construction sector. By reducing training costs, construction companies can benefit from a significant cut in overheads.
“Unless clients stipulate training as a requirement in pre-qualification for tendering and are prepared to allow for it in the project costs, apprenticeships will continue to decline.
“We now need clients and the Government to offer incentives for specialist contractors to train.”
The Government’s Budget promise included grant funding to stimulate the development of 10,000 new higher level apprenticeships specifically in SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises). But with trading conditions still difficult in the construction sector, firms are unlikely to invest in apprentices and reverse the 20-year trend of a declining number of apprenticeships without further incentives, say CWO.
Bernard Burns: “It is good news that the Government is pledging to support the creation of new apprenticeships. Despite the current downturn it is essential that the construction sector continues to invest in apprentices. This is especially important in specialist construction companies to ensure we don’t suffer from a skills shortage when the economy recovers.”
He says for CWO, investing in skills development is a no-brainer: “Our apprenticeship programme is fundamental to building our business and our reputation for skilled craftsmanship, as well as ensuring skilled craftsmen for future generations.”
CWO employ 110 people from their offices in London and offices and works at Chichester. Recent projects include Buckingham Palace, the Real Tennis Court at Hampton Court, The Monument in London, and the restoration and rebuilding of the St Lawrence Jewry Memorial Fountain for the City of London Corporation.