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Crafting the future

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Worries about the looming skills crisis that the construction industry faces are growing, with a forecast need for 100,000 new recruits to satisfy the demands of the National Infrastructure Plan by 2020. That ambitious plan itself will occupy some 250,000 construction workers as well as 150,000 engineers; there will also be growing demand from elsewhere in the industry for key skilled workers as well as construction professionals.

The steel sector has seen a potential skills shortage looming for some years and has already adopted a strategy to ensure that the necessary skills will be available. A key part of that is an industry specific apprenticeship training scheme called CRAFT – Competence Route of Attainment in a Fabrication Trade. The first CRAFT Structural Steelwork Fabricator-Welder Apprenticeship scheme has just reported the success of its first recruit, which you can read about in News this month.

The specialist apprenticeship scheme involves training modules supervised by workplace coaches, with the tests sat by apprentices validated by BCSA registered validators. Apprentices can be assured of being fully and methodically trained in skills that will be in high demand throughout their working lives, as can future employers.

The CRAFT scheme was launched in June 2014 and has already attracted new recruits to the industry. Before its launch there was no apprenticeship scheme that specifically addressed the needs of steel construction. Less than 2% of the workforce of BCSA members were apprentices and most of them were working for the larger steelwork contractors. Training centres that provided courses relevant to the sector, where apprentices would traditionally attend several days a week, were in dwindling supply.

CRAFT was designed to overcome this, allowing new recruits to be trained in the workplace over two years at least, becoming familiar with the systems and equipment that are used in real life work situations. Recruits are carefully selected and both employers and the recruits themselves can establish suitability for the industry.
As CRAFT training takes place in-house, the problem of the decline of external training centres is overcome.  Employers get to see the potential workforce of the future in a live operating environment.

Young people are looking hard at their options these days, comparing the value of a university degree with an apprenticeship, and it seems that more than a few are prepared to choose apprenticeship over a degree. Traditionally, the apprenticeship route has been a success for many senior figures in the steel construction sector; some went on to take degrees of course, but all would agree that the base of practical knowledge gained in the workshop often gave them a head start on those with purely academic backgrounds.

Young people may not have been fully aware in the past that the apprenticeship route offered an attractive future, but a lot of work has been done with schools to get the message across. BCSA members regularly visit schools in their areas to spread the message.  We are almost certain to hear a lot more about a skills crisis over the coming years but, as CRAFT shows, the sector is taking steps to ensure it doesn’t hamper the UK’s continuing development of the world’s leading steel construction industry.

Nick Barrett – Editor

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