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Apprenticeship drive must build on state support

For many years apprenticeships have been the preferred entry way into the building services engineering sector.

With the government’s recent announcement that spending on adult apprenticeships will rise by £250m a year to create 75,000 new opportunities for on-the-job training positions, it is clear that there is significant high-level support for bringing fresh talent into the sector.

The increase in funding for adult apprenticeships is something that SummitSkills welcomes. We are in no doubt that there is a huge need for new apprentices to join the sector, as green technologies become a key priority for employers, more popular with consumers and vital in meeting the government’s low-carbon targets.

Our recent research report, Potential Training Demand in Environmental Technologies in Building Services Engineering: Stage 1, showed that while overall engagement in environmental technologies is increasing in the sector, there are still not enough trained operatives in the UK to cope with the expected increase in demand over the next two years.

The report found a similar problem when looking at the heating and ventilation industry. It reported a 48 per cent increase in the number of businesses engaged in solar water and heating installation, but only a 3 per cent increase in the number of operatives with formal solar water technology training.

The rise in new technologies is not only a chance to upskill the existing workforce but also a chance to create high-quality, relevant apprenticeships to ensure the next generation of heating and ventilation professionals are equipped with relevant skills to be able to design, install and maintain environmental technologies.

SummitSkills is committed to enhancing the quality and delivery of work in the sector and so is taking an active role to tackle skills shortages in environmental technologies.

The planned £3m National Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies will go a long way to helping close the gap between skills and demand by co-ordinating skills training in design, installation and maintenance of environmental technologies.

Training and skills are key to protecting the future of the building services engineering sector. With the spending review’s positive outlook for creating new apprenticeship positions, it is not just numbers of trainees that are needed, but highly skilled professionals that have had access to the right training at the right level.

In addition to creating one of the best entry points for new sector workers, apprentices also benefit by earning as they are learning, which is positive for both employers and employees.

Many businesses may find this a challenging time to employ apprentices, but I am convinced that in the long term it’s important that the sector continues to train both adult apprentices and the younger people coming into the sector who will be there for the future.

Apprentices are the lifeblood of our industries, and as the sector moves forward and emerges from recession we must do all that we can to ensure there are skilled and qualified people ready to take best advantage. We must continue to invest in high-quality skills and training, for the sake of the UK economy and the continuing success of the sector.

Keith Marshall OBE is chief executive of SummitSkills, the sector skills council for building services engineering