Training your way out of the recession

HVCA Business Plus
Apprentices as the key to emerging from the recession — Mike Jenkins.

Companies with a skilled workforce will be the strongest contenders for new business when the economy emerges from recession, as Mike Jenkins explains.

When the recession was at its worst, in the middle of last year, the construction industry was laying off over 5000 workers every week. The number of construction jobs has fallen from 2.3 million to 2.1 million during the downturn, a decline of 8% and a rate of job losses that is three times greater than the UK economy as a whole. A similarly high rate of increase in unemployment has hit younger workers, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and these two factors combined are a warning sign that some businesses in construction and building services will find it difficult to win new business even when the economy recovers.

In November 2009, the number of 16 to 24-year-olds not in employment, education or training rose above the million mark for the first time. Since the start of the recession, there has been an 8% increase in unemployment among 16 to 17-year-olds to 32%, compared with just a 1.6% increase to 4.4% for the over 50s. A major reason for this increase was that so many employers sacrificed their apprentices in an attempt to cut costs.

In May 2009, this trend caused concerns in the industry, as the Chartered Institute of Building’s (CIOB) third annual skills survey showed that 77% of respondents believed there was still a skills shortage despite the downturn in demand. A big majority, 78%, believed this shortage would hinder the industry’s recovery when the economy improved.

Companies lacking in essential skills will find it hard to compete for contracts when the economy begins to recover. In challenging economic times, it is as crucial as ever to grow and develop talent so as to aid faster recovery and ensure the effects of the downturn do not linger as long as they did after previous recessions. Apprentices provide an important part of this solution, giving companies opportunities to develop and grow skills at relatively low cost.

In December, the Government published an employment White Paper that set out a £400 million programme over the next 18 months, with £300 million to tackle youth unemployment. This included plans for 100 000 new jobs, apprenticeships and training opportunities for under 25s, and £2500 ‘golden hellos’ to firms to encourage them to take on young apprentices. The first 5000 companies to agree to employ and train a 16 to 17-year-old will qualify for the one-off payment between January and April this year. With such a move, there can be no doubting the importance of apprentices and training in this economic recovery.

HVCA Business Plus, which together with all the subsidiary companies of the HVCA, helps businesses of all sizes in the HVACR industry with advice and guidance, presenting reliable and affordable ways of improving a business’s efficiency and profitability.

One such subsidiary, Building Engineering Services Training Ltd (BEST), encourages HVACR employers to recruit apprentices and provides training that leads to the achievement of National and Scottish Vocational Qualifications. High-quality staff training is proven to boost a business’s competitiveness, productivity and employee motivation. BEST aims to optimise employers’ return on investment by offering recruitment, initial assessment, induction, course advice, progress reviews and mentoring and financial support. BEST also acts as liaison between employers, colleges and public funding bodies.

The recession may at last be approaching its end, but the struggle to survive is far from over, and only those with a competent and skilled workforce will be able to compete.

For more information visit or free phone 0800 9171541.

Mike Jenkins is business development manager of Welplan and group co-ordinator of HVCA Business Plus.

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