The construction industry could be sitting on a talent goldmine…

6b349d5084fe4e1ab79c0d0522bdae5fDaniel Gardner was an aspirational 20 year old, with clear leadership ability, working in the café at his local Morrison’s. He’d finished his education at one of the toughest schools in Malvern, designated An Area of Outstanding Beauty but none-the-less a sleepy backwater, and was lucky to have a job serving tea to pensioners and other loyal supermarket customers. But this wasn’t Daniel’s calling. We’ll come back to Daniel later.

At the heart of the Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy is an ambition to create 30,000 new apprenticeships in response to a significant skills gap and growing demand for a workforce that can service the huge government investment in transport infrastructure projects in the UK.

Apprenticeships – and wider work-based learning programmes – are undergoing enormous change; as the government pushes forward with plans to create 3m apprentices by 2020 via an ambitious levy on big business and the complete re-writing of training plans, industry standards and the way employers work with colleges and training providers.

Major construction projects, such as Crossrail, are a prime example of how public and private investment in infrastructure are looking beyond a legacy of tunnels and track. Sir Terry Morgan, Crossrail Chairman, has always seen the project as a call to arms, earlier this year he proclaimed:

This is the opportunity, not only to deliver; but I often think on my Crossrail programme, I often say, big though it is, it’s £15bn of investment, big though it is – it’s more than a railway”. “It’s all the legacy issues that go with it, around skills, about employment, about economic regeneration: a whole suite of things that always follow investment in transport infrastructure

The government have agreed:

“When we’re investing £70 billion in transport in this Parliament alone, we need a new generation of engineers, designers and construction professionals, as well as highly skilled people to operate the networks once they’re opened”.

Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport, August 2015.

 Read more about the Government strategy here.

To meet this challenge head-on, there are increasing examples of people reimagining what this legacy looks like. A new style of training set-up that is having a radical impact is the collaboration between Youthforce and Crossrail contractor Balfour Beatty, Morgan Sindall, Vinci (BBMV). Youthforce is a small independent training provider, based in Hove, Sussex, and we’ve been quietly developing apprenticeship programmes on the south coast for the last 10 years.

But recently, I’ve been working with major UK business in construction and science to reimagine what a top-to-bottom workforce development programme might look like. Here is an enormous opportunity for businesses in-line to pay the levy from April, ensuring that they get an expert training programme that boosts recruitment, retention and gives them a pipeline of talent for many years.

Like everyone else, Youthforce were ‘selling’ apprenticeships as a ready-made, government-funded training package; a hefty state-determined framework, delivered through a day-release programme – often inflexible and restrictive in how it could be delivered. Now, we’re turning this on its head.

What we’ve done differently, is to spend time understanding how BBMV, the joint venture between Balfour Beatty and Morgan Sindall, works. We have learned about concrete chemistry at the Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy (TUCA) building, they donned hard-hats down the Crossrail tunnels to understand what conditions apprentices would need to work in. It is not just about understanding how big-scale construction works; it is about understanding how it works in these companies, analysing the skills gaps and creating first class recruitment programmes that find and coach appropriate talent even before they reach the interview room.

To be honest, we probably wouldn’t have given the CV’s of these apprentices a second look, but Youthforce saw the potential based on their understanding of our needs, and what makes these young people tick. I’m glad they did, the apprentices couldn’t be a better fit and we couldn’t be more committed to making this work

 Graham Booker, Materials Department Technical Manager for Balfour Beatty.

Youthforce are disrupting the whole way their apprenticeships are designed – giving power to Balfour Beatty and Morgan Sindall to be commissioners of the training, ensuring that every assessment is fit for purpose; up-skilling Balfour Beatty supervisors so that they would be able to get the best out of the apprentices they are going to be managing. Youthforce are now project managers as well as training experts, bringing in partner training companies to deliver new, specialist parts of the training and working with Balfour Beatty and BBMV as full partners in the programme design, rather than just getting occasional updates from the tutor.

Tom Lane, Skills and Employment Manager for Tideway, has been a strong advocate for an initial 3 week block of safety training (CSCS, Tunnel Entry, manual handling, working at height for example) and site visits which he worked with Youthforce to plan and procure. He says:

This initial training is vital to them being immediately site ready. We are working on broadening this for future cohorts as it worked so well to prepare them

So what is relevant about Daniel Gardner? Daniel would not have ordinarily applied for a job at Balfour Beatty. And he wouldn’t have got it if he did. He had a lot to learn about himself, about the business of construction and about the science that drives safe and effective material chemistry.  Yet, Daniel was a bright and meticulous worker, with a great eye for detail and an easy manner with colleagues. He was a quick learner. We saw this immediately and set to work on bringing out these qualities, empowering Daniel to articulate his strengths and to be clear about how his passions and ambitions were much bigger than the Morrison’s café. Balfour Beatty have valued Daniel, and have invested in his career – and in return they now have a brilliant materials technician who deals effortlessly with the myriad of subcontractor’s onsite.

My vision is to ensure that the employers that work with Youthforce never feel that their growth is hampered by a lack of home-grown, hungry talent looking for a start in the industry. The talent is out there, and good partnerships like this will be the future to unlocking it.

For more information about the Youthforce revolution, please get in touch with or visit our website



Schools have an answer to the national skills gap … but not in the way you think


Schools can be the champions of employable, resilient and rounded young people – but not just through teaching, but through employment.

By significantly increasing the number of apprentices that they employ, schools would give a clear and positive message about apprenticeships to young people, parents and employers.

Our system has been wary of vocational education for far too long. This gulf between university tuition and industry-led training is harming our economy and minimising the number of real routes to success available to young people

The recent quote above comes from Sir Keith Burnett – Vice Chancellor of Russell Group; Sheffield University in the Telegraph. He is concerned about our message in the education sector, to young people, parents and employers – that vocational education is second rate. This message prevails despite the widely reported benefits of apprenticeships in terms of job prospects, lack of debt, and an increase to the economy through a more skilled and expert workforce. Expert because the reflection on practice and testing theory that characterises learning on an apprenticeship leads eventually to expertise – not just skills.

The clear business case for schools and local authorities, above all else, is the development of a clear through-route for local talent. Schools can develop and ‘grow their own’ staff with lower national insurance contributions and lower wages for the first year. Challenges in recruitment and staff turnover need a long-term systematic solution – this can easily be part of it.

Mayfield School in Portsmouth have taken on around 15 apprentices in the last 3 years. Matt Steadman Deputy Head Teacher says

The challenge for each of our apprentices when they join us is to ‘make themselves indispensable’.  The vast majority of our apprentices have risen to this challenge and have made themselves integral parts of our staff team.

Our apprentices are treated exactly the same as our permanent members of staff and we have the same expectations of them in terms of conduct, attendance and work ethic.  It has been a pleasure to see young people grow from nervous school or college leavers on the first day of their apprenticeships to be confident, self-motivated and highly valued colleagues by the end of their placements

With over 27,000 in England, schools are well placed to own a substantial stake in the government’s 3 million target and shape the future agenda of apprenticeships. After all schools are part of an important industry called ‘education’ – we too need high quality training programmes to shape and grow our workforce. We have a powerful heritage of training on the job to offer to the apprenticeship table.

Schools – as communities – have the capacity to communicate messages about how children and young people prepare to navigate a career path from very early on. For instance, learning skills in sharing, team work, basic Maths & English are seen as basic building blocks. These building blocks are the foundations of an apprenticeship alongside learning on the job. Children and young people are very aware of the adults supporting them and have a strong sense of their role and status within the school.

Apprentices working in schools are modelling a valuable route into a wide range of potential careers. Apprentices can begin in entry level jobs such as learning support assistants at level 2 (equivalent to 5 x A-C GCSE’s) and level 3 (equivalent to 2 x A levels) through to degree level apprenticeships which are gathering pace, with a wide variety of subjects such as IT Technicians and a new a trailblazer planned for an apprenticeship in teaching. What better way to explain how an apprenticeship works than to see apprentices in action every day?

The 2016 Enterprise bill has a provision to alter the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning act 2009 to set targets which are being proposed at 2.3% of all FTE. This target includes Academies, Free Schools and of course Local Authority maintained schools.

The government is calling on schools to employ apprentices and rightly so, but I don’t think this should just be about the numbers or about the business case. This should be about the challenge of maximising ‘the number of real routes to success available to young people’ as Sir Keith Burnett suggests.

For more information about apprenticeships in schools please get in touch with or visit our website