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Apprenticeships could be hit as downturn bites

The economic downturn could lead to a shortage of apprenticeships in the building services industry and a glut of trainees with basic qualifications but no placements to develop their skills.

Keith Marshall, OBE, chief executive of SummitSkills, said the issue had to be managed carefully to avoid previous problems with the way colleges delivered hundreds of basic courses to youngsters with no chance of securing a place in the industry.

He said: “We are getting indications that the number of apprenticeships is reducing. I would not describe it as a collapse, but the numbers are beginning to go down. However, if college funding holds up for courses we will simply end up with more people doing technical certificates through colleges without the opportunity to go on to a work-based apprenticeship.

“It is a difficult situation already and it does not need to be aggravated. Our position is quite clear: the system needs to be sustainable. The number of people allowed to start a college-based programme hoping they will get a place with an employer needs to be sensible. Frankly, I think some colleges are being disingenuous with the number they are taking on.

“We have already talked to the Learning Skills Council and they are looking at this. If this is not dealt with we will simply get more and more disillusioned young people who have completed a course without a hope of getting a job in the industry.”

Training bodies such as Building Engineering Services Training and JTL are funded by the Learning Skills Council to co-ordinate apprenticeship opportunities which meet industry expectations. Best told H&V News some companies had been forced to cut apprenticeships, but it was bringing in new companies to take their place.

Meanwhile, JTL said it expected to see the number of apprenticeship places rise this year, but not as quickly as originally planned. Caroline Turner, JTL’s director of corporate services, said: “While these are early days for us to have any figures for how the credit crunch is affecting apprenticeships, the general feeling is that it will have an impact on recruitment.

“JTL is noticing a levelling-off in the number of heating, ventilating and plumbing apprentices currently being recruited, which may affect our targets for this year. But we feel that, for heating and ventilation in particular, we will still be able to recruit more apprentices than we did last year.”

Diane Johnson, vice chairman of the Electrical Contractors Association in the North West region and financial director of m&e specialist Eric Johnson of Northwich, said the feedback she was receiving indicated many companies were under extreme pressure.

She said: “I cannot believe anyone can think of taking on apprentices at the moment. There is no work out there. It is going to be very difficult to place people and spend money on training when margins are down to less than 2 per cent.

“This may be the first year for 63 years that we do not take on apprentices. Our feeling is that things are going to be really tough.”