BESA backs Chancellor’s focus on youth

Helen Yeulet
Helen Yeulet

The ambitious approach is welcome, but the industry needs a more 'blended approach' to training, says BESA in response to chancellor. 

The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) welcomed the “ambitious plans” announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in his Summer Statement that included generous subsidies for employers willing to take on apprentices, but said the industry would need a more “blended approach” to delivering training.

The Association praised the government’s new £2bn worth of measures aimed at improving employment prospects for the younger generation. These include £2,000 for every employer who takes on an apprentice and £1,000 for any willing to take on new trainees. Firms will also receive £1,500 if they take on an apprentice aged over 25.

However, chief executive David Frise said that 50% of apprentices in the building engineering sector were still furloughed, which “is a big concern” as many may not return to work at all.

One way of making it easier for employers to take on apprentices was to develop a “more blended model” for delivering their training, he said. This would involve a mixture of remote working using digital delivery systems alongside the traditional classroom and on site experience.

This will be a feature of the new BESA Academy, which launches in August and will be providing a wide range of online courses.

“A lot of colleges are reluctant to provide engineering apprenticeships because they are more expensive and complex than other types of training,” said Mr Frise. “Delivering more of the course content remotely will make it more attractive to them and easier to access for prospective students.”

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However, BESA said it would be essential to make sure all apprentices had access to adequate equipment and IT support.

“The lockdown period was an excellent testing ground for the new remote teaching model,” said director of BESA Training Helen Yeulet. “In theory, it should have been the perfect time for apprentices to catch up on course work and planning, but in practice it was not quite so easy.”

She said a survey carried out by the Association revealed worrying levels of “IT poverty”.

This meant many apprentices were in danger of falling behind their peers during the lockdown and of missing out on valuable exercises and materials because of limited access to the right kind of computer hardware and IT support. The variable speeds and quality of rural broadband is another issue that can undermine the ability of some apprentices to keep up with remote learning tasks.

“We decided to carry out a full survey when it became clear some of our apprentices were trying to do their work on smart phones,” she said. “The issue is not just the equipment, however, but also around internet access, which is as much about geography as funding. It is imperative that the IT issue does not exacerbate regional and economic inequalities.”

The survey found considerable differences between regions: Almost 20% of apprentices in Wales and 10% in Scotland did not have the use of their own laptop or iPad compared with a much smaller proportion in England.

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According to the BESA survey, almost half of all Scottish apprentices and more than a third of their Welsh counterparts attempting to continue studying from home during the lockdown had to share a laptop, while this was only true of around 20% of those based in England. Access to printing facilities was similarly restricted.

“If we want to increase online engagement, it is important that we understand where this might disadvantage some young people and discourage them from taking up careers in our industry,” said Ms Yeulet.

“When schools closed, some parents found it hard to cope with home schooling and many were caught out by the sudden need to increase their broadband contracts, for example. Some had to pay more for better broadband speeds etc., which can make all the difference if you are already struggling financially.

“Boris Johnson spoke about ‘levelling up’ to narrow the inequality gap between different parts of the country and this must also be part of the equation when it comes to supporting apprenticeships,” added Ms Yeulet.

BESA is working with its members and a range of industry partners to tackle ‘IT poverty’. One potential solution is repurposing old equipment that could be donated to those apprentices in greatest need.

“The pace of change over the last few months has caught many people out,” said Ms Yeulet. “However, it has also created an opportunity to accelerate many innovations – increased remote working and access to better quality IT for all being an important case in point.

“People of all ages, genders and backgrounds have an opportunity to contribute to their communities and wider society through working in our sector. We need to do a better job of promoting what our industry does and why it is important – and we need to back that up with a flexible approach to training and skills – one that reflects the full lifecycle of training,” she added.

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