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We must address apprentices shortage now

Mark Hansford

There seemed to be a lot more noise around National Apprenticeship Week this year.

Highlights from last week have to include Transport for London (TfL) and its supply chain holding a recruitment fair at the capital’s City Hall aimed at filling over 200 new apprenticeship roles; Aecom revealing plans to hire over 130 apprentices in the UK this year, and Amey committing to hiring 1,000 apprentices over the next four years.

A personal highlight came last Friday when I had the opportunity to speak directly to apprentices from TfL’s London Highways Alliance Contract (LoHAC) at its apprenticeship forum. And with TfL and its supply chain now having created over 5,500 apprentice roles, there was a lot to talk about.

And they were a passionate, committed and knowledge-hungry bunch - the sort of people we should want in our profession.


So - why is the wider industry still not doing enough to get them?

The UK’s future economic growth will be hindered by a significant experience gap in engineering, if good practice for developing technician careers is not adopted more widely. At least, that is the message from a report launched last week at Parliament by the EngTechNow campaign.

Its message was stark: we will face a technician shortage of 450,000 by 2020.

Alongside the report, an EngTechNow charter was launched with two infrastructure project promoters, nine engineering employers and two trade unions signing up. Signatories committed to practical steps to ensure their technicians and apprentices are supported to achieve professional status. They will do this by ensuring their apprenticeships are Engineering Council certified and their fees paid for as well as setting targets for pass rates.

A laudable initiative, and well done to client Crossrail and Thames Tideway and the four civils firms Balfour Beatty, Carillion, NG Bailey and WSP for signing up. Come on the rest of you - sign up now.

Effort is increasingly going into making the apprenticeship campaign as much about quality as is about quantity.

Indeed, last week civil engineering got government approval to develop new Apprenticeship Standards under its Trailblazers scheme set up in October 2013 improve apprenticeship delivery. A group of employers led by Arup will develop an Apprenticeship Standard for a Civil Engineering Technician. They’ll seek to build on the already successful Advanced Technician Apprenticeship for Civil Engineering Technicians.

It will build belief in the theory that professional engineering is not just for those who go to university and ultimately, I hope, we will see a healthy change in the demographic of ICE membership.

I would love it if all of those apprentices at TfL’s forum became professionally-qualified ICE members - and of course NCE readers as a result.

Why? Because a more diverse industry will be more creative, will have better ideas, and will simply be more vibrant. So come on employers, signEngTechNow’s charter - now.

  • Mark Hansford is NCE’s editor

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