By Lauren Brown, project manager for Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian
HELPING young people prepare for a working life beyond their school years requires a process of early engagement with career advisors whilst pupils are in the formative years of secondary education. Influencing and informing young people at this early stage is vital in attracting the future workforce, not least because without investing our energies into promoting the sector to the next generation, the risk of a continuing skills shortage will remain.
In recognising this, the Scottish Government’s ‘Skills Investment Plan for the Construction Industry’ sets out a strategy to promote and improve the awareness of careers advisors and guidance staff on how best to promote the sector to pupils.
Certainly, in West Lothian where Developing the Young Workforce is working in partnership with schools and businesses across the region, there is a readiness to open doors to a world of opportunity for school leavers. This includes encouraging young people to consider apprenticeships into the construction industry, which provide a rewarding and fruitful career path.
For the employer, the new apprenticeship levy – where all funds raised through the levy will be invested in skills, training and workforce development – will soon reap benefits encouraging more young people to enter the workplace. Indeed, Skills Development Scotland’s current figures suggest that West Lothian has just over 1250 apprentices in training, so prospects for further engagement look promising.
Employers, trade associations and federations all speak with one voice when they talk about a need to increase the awareness of career opportunities in the sector, as well as increasing a breadth of applications for Foundation and Modern Apprenticeship places and other construction related programmes.
This is certainly poignant, given that there is a general uncertainty how the construction industry landscape might look in a post-Brexit Scotland. If we begin to lose vast numbers of skilled migrant workers, we need to fill these roles. Therefore, we will not have a better opportunity to nurture our budding home-grown talent to view the construction industry as a career that offers an array of multi-faceted options that suits their skills and talents. This is what the industry needs to take on board.
So, what are some of the challenges? According to John Keenan, partnerships manager, Scotland at the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), the challenges are ‘getting to young people, their influencers and their career advisors, their parents and their peers at an early stage and getting them to realise there is a huge opportunity, range and diversity of different things they can do within construction. It is not just the crafts and trades such as bricklaying, joinery or working with plant machinery; it is about other areas too – at professional level – choosing to become architects, quantity surveyors and civil engineers, for example.’
Moreover, there is a lack of young women taking up construction industry apprenticeships straight from school, which follows a historical path of gender under-representation and imbalance. However, the construction industry apprenticeship and training schemes are aligned to much more than the demanding physical jobs synonymous with working on building sites. Whilst ‘trade apprenticeships’ are part of the picture, the construction industry offers a significant amount of on the job training and support in back office administration and other supporting roles which are all-important in keeping the construction company running smoothly.
As one of the flagship programmes for the construction industry in Scotland, the CITB administrates the ‘Go Construct’ portal which encourages a network of ambassadors – namely employers with construction industry connections – to go into schools and speak with children to raise awareness of construction industry opportunities, something which garners support from Developing the Young Workforce, Skills Investment Scotland and Education Scotland. This is a great platform for challenging perceptions and championing the sector as an industry of choice.
The key players in the construction industry across Scotland appear galvanised to tap into the great wealth of talent that our schools work so hard to nurture, and will offer encouragement and support to give these young people a foothold into a rich and rewarding start to their working life.