Investing in the future of construction

With apprenticeships high on the political and construction skills agenda, Julie Blair-Park, head of HR at Marley Eternit, discusses the progress made in the roofing and cladding industry and gives a personal insight from two manufacturing and contracting apprentices.

The subject of apprenticeships has risen to the forefront of political and media discussions over the past few months, with politicians promising various new incentives as part of their election pledges, from free transport to reduced national insurance contributions for apprentices.   The 2015 Budget also saw the announcement of a digital voucher scheme to start in 2017, which gives businesses greater control of apprenticeship funding.

However, there is still a long way to go if, as an industry, we are going to be able to recruit all of the apprentices we need to fill the skills gap.  The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) predicts that an additional 200,000 jobs will be created in the construction industry over the next five years and up to 400,000 people could retire over the same period.  As part of the combination of measures needed to fill this skills gap, the CITB estimates the construction sector requires 120,000 apprentices over the next five years.

The skills shortage in the roofing and cladding industry runs across many levels and there are different types of apprenticeships needed throughout both contracting and manufacturing.   For example, there is a real shortage of people with the right skills and qualifications to maintain production equipment.  So, at Marley Eternit, we already offer electrical and mechanical engineering NVQ apprenticeships at several of our UK manufacturing facilities.  This means we can train engineers to meet the needs of our business and support them with gaining the qualifications required through learning at college. 

We are currently looking at expanding our apprenticeship scheme because it is crucial for the skilled elements of our manufacturing operation.  These days, the plants are so highly specialised that no amount of external experience can prepare potential new employees.  The ideal situation is to grow and develop our own people into the very detailed and skilled roles essential to the operation of the facilities across the UK.    As well as offering apprenticeships, Marley Eternit runs graduate training schemes and is also currently offering the opportunity for an undergraduate to undertake a one year paid placement at one of our manufacturing plants. 

Brooke Kempson is an electrical engineering apprentice at Marley Eternit on a four year programme.  He said: “I joined the scheme straight from school and I’m now in my second year.  I go to college on a Tuesday and then the rest of the time it is on the job training.  As an electrical apprentice, I’m involved in keeping the plant running and dealing with any electrical repairs and maintenance.  I really enjoy it because it is very hands on and the equipment here is very sophisticated, so I’m getting very good experience.

“My dad is a mechanical engineer and I grew up being really interested in engineering as a result of his job.   The apprenticeship is giving me a really good opportunity to get the career in electrical engineering that I have always wanted.”

It is important that apprenticeship programmes are well planned, targeting the areas of need and providing the right skills to meet the gap.  For example, Bracknell Roofing has recently launched a long-term apprenticeship programme designed to drive forward the development of the ‘roofers of the future’.  The company has just seen the first two apprentices join its programme, with several more young people expected to join the two year scheme by the end of the year.  The company directly employs up to ten experienced roofing personnel to support the programme and help supervise and mentor the young people joining the scheme.

Marley Contract Services (MCS) has also been running a successful apprenticeship scheme for many years and has recently taken on its 30th apprentice.  The scheme involves day release to college and practical learning on site, with participants trained to Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQ). 

 19 year old Dean Fulton, a third year roofing apprentice (SVQ Level 2), told us about his experiences on the MCS scheme: “My friend was an apprentice and recommended that I approach MCS.  I had always wanted to do a job that was practical and outdoors, so roofing was ideal.  I really enjoy learning new skills and it is great to be able to learn and earn at the same time.  I want to pursue a career in construction and the apprenticeship gives me the foundation I need.  I’m on site every day and my training supervisor comes to visit me.  At the moment I work mainly on social housing projects but other apprentices work across private housing as well and we’re all really busy.”

Despite the progress made in the sector, it is clear from talking to apprentices that more work needs to be done when it comes to informing young people about the different types of apprenticeships and opportunities available to them.

Brooke Kempson comments: “School did give us some information about apprenticeships but not much and they didn’t give specific examples of the types of apprenticeships that are available.  I think schools should be starting to give information to pupils at a much earlier age, as young as they can, letting them know what opportunities are out there and the different options available.”

Dean Fulton adds: “The careers advisor at school didn’t tell me about apprenticeships, until I asked about them following a conversation with my friend. I think schools could provide a lot more information about the possibility of apprenticeships to pupils.”

To close the skills gap in the roofing and cladding industry, manufacturers and contractors alike need to continue to offer the right opportunities for young people coming into the industry, through a combination of apprenticeships and graduate schemes.  However, the construction sector as a whole needs to work with schools and colleges to inform young people about the different career paths available and promote the benefits of working in a sector which is becoming increasingly lucrative as the skills shortage takes hold.  

For further information on working for Marley Eternit please visit our careers pages.

Here at Marley Eternit, we are always on hand to offer practical and experienced support. Select an option below or call us on 01283 722588.