BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

Alleviating the skills shortage through apprenticeships

With the ongoing shortfall in built environment skills, many organisations are increasingly turning to apprenticeship schemes to develop talent. One degree apprentice explains the benefits

Author:

  • David Browne

09 April 2024

Two apprentices and a manager onsite

If you work in the built environment you will be aware of the current skills shortage, and how difficult it can be to source competent workers.

There is a notable shortage of building surveyors, while few students aspire to practise in this discipline. Consequently, many companies have turned to apprenticeship schemes to develop relevant skills.

Furthermore, legislative reform and environmental targets among other developments mean the demand for building surveyors is expected to grow further to meet the future needs of construction.

Government galvanises interest in apprenticeships

Of course, many industries have long offered schemes that have benefited apprentices and employers alike. As a work-based method of education, this route has historically been adopted by built-environment employers seeking to train skilled labour in trade occupations.

However, the focus has shifted in recent years and higher-level apprenticeship schemes have been introduced to address shortages in particular disciplines, including building surveying.

In May 2015, the government launched a series of degree apprenticeships to boost skills for in-demand disciplines. As a result, apprenticeships of all levels have appeared more desirable to younger generations.

With the introduction of degree apprenticeships companies also had a framework that they could use to train the next generation of built environment professionals, subsidised by a government levy.

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Demand for skills presents growth opportunity

According to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB)'s Construction Skills Network (CSN) Outlook 2023–2027, an additional 45,000 UK workers per year may be needed between 2023 to 2027 to meet forecast UK construction demand – a significant number.

The slight increase in industry demand for technical and professional occupations over the trades has been consistent over a number of years. This suggests that there will be new opportunities for younger generations to enroll on apprenticeship schemes that focus on the professional side of the industry. As a result, we should see the number of construction consultants rise.

Furthermore, CITB has itself invested more than £50m in the UK government's apprenticeship levy. This is intended to support more than 22,000 apprentices and CITB has also introduced a range of initiatives. For instance, CITB has launched onsite experience hubs designed to bridge the gap between training and work, following feedback from employers.

Learning how I learn best

I am among those who started their apprenticeships in 2021. Choosing to become a degree apprentice building surveyor with Baily Garner was one of the best decisions I have made.

At that time, the world of work remained a daunting prospect, and I had many lessons to learn both professionally and in my life. So, on joining the firm, I was asked by my mentor to complete an online test that determined how my mind responds to different methods of learning.

The results showed that I am primarily a kinaesthetic learner, and thus do best in environments that involve a physical form of learning. I then found it much easier to learn through on-the-job activities, and developed an approach that best suited me.

As an example, my weekly visits to live projects enabled me to understand elements of the job more easily. I found this particularly beneficial when developing my understanding of construction technology and building pathology. Following my site visits, I was able to draft associated contractual documents thanks to my physical understanding of the site.

Baily Garner also appreciates the requirements of the industry. It is therefore able to tailor learning in a way that addresses industry demand, and consequently the skills shortage. The company actively promotes a culture of growing our own, and I believe this should be embraced by other organisations that seek to attract new talent.

Competencies complemented by academic study

My apprenticeship has exposed me to various areas that feed directly into my building surveying competencies, and I have been working hard to develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours required to become a chartered surveyor.

Contract administration, condition surveying and other day-to-day practices have expanded my knowledge of building pathology, construction technology and other competency areas.

Throughout my apprenticeship, I have had to learn quickly to adapt to the demands of the working world as well as managing my part-time university commitments. This has taught me how to organise my time, and provide the best service possible to my colleagues and clients while completing work for my lecturers.

The academic component of my learning remains essential and provides me with the opportunity to challenge my understanding against the knowledge of my lecturers.

For example, I have recently been asked to design and specify energy improvement measures for a grade II listed building. This and my other assignments enable me to practise more complex projects without the expectations and risks associated with the working world.

Appeal of apprenticeships increases

In October 2023, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service announced a new scheme to connect students with apprenticeship opportunities to meet the increase in demand, stating that '59% of young people in years 9–12 are now considering an apprenticeship'.

The ability to earn a wage was notably the most appealing factor for the majority of the young people surveyed, alongside the ability to learn new skills. This represents a tremendous win for apprenticeship schemes.

I have also met several full-time university students who have decided to become apprentices during their course. Their reasoning was that this would allow them to earn a wage while gaining experience with an employer. By opting for a different method of learning, they suggest the perception of academically focused education may be changing.

I thoroughly enjoy my role as an apprentice building surveyor and am regularly inspired by my senior colleagues to become the best professional that I can be. I believe that such schemes have a bright future, and it is clear that apprentices can be employed to address the industry-wide skills shortage.

As more and more students become interested in this route, I hope to see an increase in apprenticeship uptake, as well as opportunities being made available to students of all backgrounds.

 

David Browne is an apprentice building surveyor at Baily Garner
Contact David: Email

Related competencies include: Building pathology, Business planning, Construction technology and environmental services, Diversity, inclusion and teamworking

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