The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has welcomed plans for a £50 million scheme to “stimulate apprenticeship training” in engineering announced by the Chancellor in his autumn statement.
Jeremy Hunt revealed plans for a two-year ‘apprenticeship growth sector pilot’ although he did not reveal the launch date or explain how the scheme would operate. He also announced a £4.5bn package of measures aimed at stimulating more investment in green energy sectors.
“We want to increase the numbers of apprenticeships,” he told the House of Commons. “Following engagement with Make UK and others, I’m announcing a further £50m of funding over the next two years to pilot ways to increase the number of apprentices in engineering and other key growth areas where there are shortages.”
A Treasury statement said the government was working with businesses “to improve the apprenticeship system to meet the needs of learners, employers and training providers...and address barriers to entry in high-value standards”.
It also confirmed that the minimum hourly wage for apprentices would rise by 21% from April 2024 to £6.40 up from £5.28.
This development comes hot on the heels of the news that a new degree apprenticeship for building services engineering has been approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IFATE) and is now awaiting formal approval by the Secretary of State for Education. The apprenticeship is expected to launch in March 2025 and each one will receive funding of up to £27,000.
“We are pleased that the Chancellor has recognised the crucial role played by apprenticeships in addressing some of the key skills gaps in our economy,” said BESA’s training and skills director Helen Yeulet.
“Delivering long-term decarbonisation and green energy plans depends on having a new generation of well-trained and motivated engineers, and there would be little point in stimulating investment without the workforce to back it up.”
BESA said the Chancellor’s support sent an important signal to employers because apprenticeships were the best way to equip industry with the modern skills it needed to be “fit for the future”.
The building engineering sector has a rapidly ageing workforce with a high proportion of employees already over 60 and nearing retirement plus a sharp drop in the number of workers under 30. This makes it hard to meet growing demand in areas such as indoor air quality, decarbonisation of heating, and renewables.
However, recent research by the Energy Systems Catapult revealed that just 2% of the people employed in the heating industry were female and only 5% from a BAME background. BESA said this was an example of a wider failure to recruit a properly diverse workforce with the skills needed to decarbonise buildings and meet government net zero targets.
“We urgently need to replace lost skills and start to rebuild the thinning ranks of the youngest and brightest in our industry,” said Yeulet. “Our industry is currently not recruiting from a wide enough demographic and its lack of diversity leaves it woefully short of skills. It also means we are missing out on the diversity of thought and ideas that allow us to approach engineering challenges in new ways. This is particularly crucial as we adopt more emerging technologies and processes to address climate change and make buildings safer and healthier.”
BESA’s ‘Future Skills’ pledge helps with the provision of apprenticeships by ensuring that colleges have a known number of employers committed to developing a pipeline of learners and building up a workforce equipped to face future challenges.