Can hiring apprentices help fill the gaps in the construction industry?

Ian Hughes (CITB Scotland)

By Ian Hughes, CITB engagement director for Scotland

THIS week marks a celebration of apprentices across Scotland, in a variety of disciplines.

An apprenticeship is an excellent way to enter a career, giving the opportunity to earn while you learn.

But what’s in it for employers? In the construction industry, which is facing numerous challenges, apprenticeships could be key to survival.

Arguably the biggest challenge facing the construction industry from 2023-27 is recruiting workers. This is due to a high level of job vacancies and low unemployment.

In Scotland, 19,550 extra construction workers are needed to meet demand by 2027. The major sectors for demand are infrastructure, private housing, repair and maintenance, according to a recent CITB report

The high number of vacancies means it is important for construction companies to make use of the recruitment support available to them. We need to encourage fresh blood into the industry, bringing with them the skills to meet tomorrow’s needs, not just today’s.

As the senior director for CITB in Scotland, I have responsibility for two of the largest customer-facing teams, namely apprenticeships and employer support (CITB’s engagement team). Both these teams offer direct support to employers in Scotland and, in the case of the apprenticeship team, they also offer direct support to the apprentices themselves.

The apprenticeship team in Scotland accounts for roughly 75 full-time CITB colleagues and they work with Skills Development Scotland to offer recruitment and ongoing support as part of the apprenticeship contract in Scotland. We are responsible for helping employers recruit between 1,300 and 1,500 new apprentices in Scotland every year.

Types of apprenticeship

There are three types of apprenticeships in Scotland: foundation apprenticeships, modern apprenticeships and graduate apprenticeships. 

Foundation Apprenticeships are for pupils in S3 to S6. They choose this qualification as part of their subject choices and work with employers. 

Modern Apprenticeships are primarily aimed at people who are 16 to 24, although there’s no upper age limit. A modern apprentice is employed and works towards a qualification with a college or learning provider.  

Graduate Apprenticeships are for anyone who is aged 16 or above – there’s no upper age limit. A graduate apprentice is employed and works full-time while gaining an Honours or Masters degree.

Building skills for the future of construction

Developing the workforce will help the construction industry contribute to growth opportunities. This means building the homes the country needs, working on transport and energy infrastructure and retrofitting the built environment to meet net zero targets.

In terms of retrofit, there will be a mixture of upskilling required. A different type of apprentice will be required to meet net zero, bio-heating and other net zero activity. Upskilling would tend to come from existing employees, so you’re upskilling them to adapt to and be able to deliver within certain net zero construction requirements. Apprenticeships are required to have a much deeper and longer kind of training and education. 

Is an apprenticeship right for your business?

Around 96% of employers who take on an apprentice in Scotland are from micro and SME companies, so they are all small companies and they have their challenges. We recognise that recruitment and finding the right people is a challenge.

Our first advice to employers would be that if you are thinking about an apprenticeship is to contact us at CITB and we can talk you through the benefits and support we and the Scottish Government can offer you.

Recruit an apprentice in Scotland – CITB

For other CITB support employers can speak with one of your local advisors

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