No Image Available

Nigel Donohue

Read more from Nigel Donohue

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Building for the future with trainees


Nigel Donohue explains how the Sector Skills Council is working to ensure that the construction industry won't suffer from skills shortages - despite a decline in the number of young people in training.

The 1990s’ economic slump had a profound impact on the level of skilled workers within the UK’s construction industry. In fact, between 1990 and 1993, the total number of trainees in the sector fell from around 41,500 to 29,300: a drop of nearly 30%. And, whilst there was a gradual rise from 1994 onwards, we didn’t return to the same level until the year 2000, a decade later.
Perhaps more telling for the skills shortages that were to come is the decrease in workers aged under 20 – the young apprentices. Between 1990 and 1993, numbers of employees in this category dropped from just under 170,000 to just over 86,000, a fall of almost half and by far the biggest percentage decline of any age group.
At the time, construction businesses were operating in a very challenging financial climate and were under pressure reduce costs, as they are now. But, the fact that employers laid off their less experienced staff before others is very evident.

These trends have almost certainly contributed to the skills shortages that have plagued the industry in recent years. They also give much evidence as to why, even despite the current recession, the most recent Construction Skills Network (CSN) forecasts show that the sector needs to attract an average of 37,000 skilled new workers each year between 2009 and 2013 to complete planned projects - recognising that the industry is set to contract significantly in 2009 and the majority of that requirement coming at the back end of the five year period.

"ConstructionSkills is developing new training models to encourage firms of all sizes to take on apprentices making it more financially viable for those who have been adversely impacted by the recession."
Worryingly for the future, the number of young people in training that have been laid off during this downturn has risen sharply since the start of 2009. For this reason, ConstructionSkills has launched a host of new initiatives to help the sector maintain its existing apprentices, and to attract new ones.
New training models
The Apprenticeship Matching Service (AMS) was launched in partnership with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) and the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), and aims to help employers continue training their construction apprentices and, where this is not possible, find alternative employment opportunities for the young people at risk of displacement.
Since January this year, the total number that have registered for support from the AMS now stands at over 2,100. The ConstructionSkills’ AMS team has already assisted over 700 apprentices either to stay on with their current employers or to complete their training with new ones.
However, as there has been a shortage of employers willing to take on apprentices compared to the number of apprentice applications for some years now, it is not just existing apprentices that are required to maintain the industry’s workforce to meet demand but there is also a crucial need to expand training opportunities.
ConstructionSkills is developing new training models to encourage firms of all sizes to take on apprentices, which streamlines the recruitment process and make it more financially viable for businesses who have been adversely impacted by the recession.
These models include:
  • Group Training Association (GTA): this system allows a collection of employers or clients to act as one organisation and share the responsibilities of training an apprentice. The GTA model could be applied to existing training groups or federations, or can be set up in partnership with local authorities.
  • Host Employer model: a scheme where major contractors (usually medium and large companies) act as the ‘host employer’ and take on a number of construction apprentices, but secure work placements for them within their supply chain.
Not only do apprentices have the potential to help the entire industry in preparing for the upturn, they can benefit each individual employer in bidding for contracts and retaining business at this challenging time.
Avoiding further skills shortages
In April 2009, the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) published new procurement guidelines for public sector construction projects, which stipulate that businesses who use construction apprentices can be prioritised for publicly-funded work. Since the government has committed to spend through the recession, the public sector offers an important revenue stream to the industry and a commitment to training apprentices can certainly support firms in the tendering process for these contracts.
Employers in the construction sector can join the fight for the industry’s future by looking at whether they have the capacity to take on an ‘at risk’ apprentice through the AMS, or considering taking on a new one via the training options available.
Construction apprentices who come through the AMS are often at the end of their training, meaning that they are very close to being fully operational on site and require only limited time and financial investment from businesses which take them on.
New apprentices can be trained up to suit an individual company’s way of working, which means that they are likely to be a loyal member of staff both now and in the future. With the introduction of the GTA and Host Employer models, there is also now added flexibility in the recruitment process and businesses can pool their expertise and share the financial investment required.
We understand that not every business is in a position to take on trainees at this time, but for those who can, apprentices are a valuable source of skills, an important part of maintaining the UK construction industry’s competitiveness and a key means of avoiding further skills shortages in the future.
Nigel Donohue, is the Apprenticeship Programme Manager for Sector Skills Council, ConstructionSkills. For more information on the AMS and options on recruiting new apprentices, visit or call 0844 875 0086 


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!