Scottish apprenticeships success ‘could be undermined’ by UK Levy uncertainty

Gordon Nelson
Gordon Nelson

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has warned that progress on Scottish apprenticeship numbers is in danger due to uncertainty over an upcoming UK-wide Apprenticeship Levy.

Gordon Nelson, director of FMB Scotland, said apprenticeship growth would be undone unless the Scottish Government ring-fences the new apprenticeship levy for training.

The warning follows figures published this week by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) which revealed a further rise in the number of Modern Apprenticeships (MAs) in training north of the Border.

The data showed that construction was the biggest contributor to the MA programme with 4,894 (19 per cent) starts.

Gordon Nelson said: “Although the increase in apprenticeship numbers is welcome, the quality and employment outcomes of apprenticeships should take precedent. Equally there is now a fear that this good work could soon be undone if the Scottish Government doesn’t commit to re-investing funds raised by the new UK-wide Apprenticeship Levy. There is a leadership vacuum in terms of demonstrating how the Apprenticeship Levy will be implemented in Scotland.

“However, in the Scottish Government’s defence, the Apprenticeship Levy has been foisted upon them with no or very little consultation. The business community in Scotland has been particularly frustrated as it was impossible to properly engage with policy-makers on this important matter in the run-up to the Scottish Parliamentary elections. Now that the elections are behind us, and the relevant Ministers are in place, we want a clear message from the Scottish Government that they will engage with the construction industry and others to develop a workable policy for investing the Apprenticeship Levy that works for the Scottish construction sector.”

Mr Nelson added: “It’s crucial that we get this right as the Scottish construction industry is already in the midst of a skills crisis – the FMB’s latest State of Trade Survey showed that nearly half of SME employers are struggling to recruit carpenters, and that more than one in three are finding it difficult to source plumbers. These kinds of shortages could have a potentially disastrous effect on the nation’s key housing and infrastructure objectives. The only way to ensure that Scotland keeps building is by developing more home-grown talent, and to achieve this, the construction industry needs the Government to prioritise quality apprenticeships and the upskilling of existing workers.”

Scottish employability minister Jamie Hepburn said: “The FMB is right to say that UK Apprenticeship Levy was introduced without consultation with Scottish Ministers and we have been frustrated at the way this levy has been imposed by the UK government.

“Despite this, I am very aware that we need to work with the business community to oversee how this policy works in Scotland and ensure we can continue to build on the considerable success of our Modern Apprenticeship programme.

“That process is underway and I would be happy to discuss with the FMB as we move forward.”

CITB, the single largest provider of Modern Apprentices in Scotland, was more enthusiastic about the figures. It directly supported 1876 Modern Apprentices last year, up 32 per cent since 2011.

In partnership with industry, CITB has developed the new industry careers website, GoConstruct, to inspire more people of all backgrounds to consider a career in construction. It shows the full range of careers available in the sector, both on and off-site.

Responding to the report, Ian Hughes, strategic partnerships director at CITB Scotland, said: “These figures are very encouraging. To see construction and CITB leading the way in the Modern Apprenticeship programme in Scotland is excellent news and a tribute to the industry and our teams on the ground.

“But we want to do even more to demonstrate what a vibrant and rewarding career construction can offer to candidates of all backgrounds. Go Construct is an excellent place to start for anyone considering a career in the industry.

“We will continue working hard with our partners in industry and government to ensure that all young people know the benefits an apprenticeship can bring.”

The figures were also welcomed by Stephen Sheridan, skills planning manager for construction at Skills Development Scotland (SDS).

He said: “It’s encouraging to see the number of construction apprentices continuing to grow at a time when skills are in great demand.

“Attracting future talent is one of the main themes of the Skills Investment Plan for Scotland’s Construction sector, and it is vital if employers are to capitalise on growth opportunities.

“Improving equality and diversity within Modern Apprenticeships is also one of our key aims, and we will continue working with a range of partners including CITB in helping more people find pathways into the industry.”

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