5 February 2010 | Gareth Mytton
The UK government should use its procurement power to make apprenticeships a priority and avert a “chronic” skills shortage in construction and civil engineering, the Unite union has said.
Les Bayliss, assistant general secretary of Unite, said although apprenticeships rose overall last year, the number of apprentices in construction and engineering fell markedly.
Speaking in National Apprenticeship Week, he said: “A boost in [construction and engineering] apprenticeships is vital to avert a UK skills disaster.”
“The most effective way for government to intervene is to use its procurement power and leverage on the public sector and infrastructure projects to make apprenticeships a priority,” Bayliss said.
“We want to see new and existing firms with long-standing and terrific records in investing in apprenticeships rewarded in future procurement and contracts within the supply chain in public sector projects.”
The number of workers aged 24 and under in the sectors has fallen by 27 per cent since the early 1990s, while the number of workers aged 60 and over has doubled, according to Unite.
The government has already unveiled plans to boost apprenticeships through procurement. Business minister Pat McFadden told the Labour party conference last year that the government would use its purchasing power to create 20,000 apprenticeships in the next three years.
In January, the government unveiled its Policy through Procurement Action Plan, which said public sector buyers would be expected to contribute to financial recovery by supporting small businesses, boosting apprenticeships and cutting carbon emissions.