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Rebuilding requires builders

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a “New Deal for Britain” at the end of June with the mantra “Build build build”. But as the Unite union says, you can’t build without builders – and the government won’t get far unless urgent action is taken to avert a crisis in skills and apprenticeship development.

Unite points to “a lethal combination” of employers’ longstanding reluctance to invest in apprentices allied to widespread redundancies because of the pandemic and a reluctance to recruit new entrants owing to uncertainty about the future. It  reckons at least half of all electrical construction apprentices are now furloughed.

“For decades the construction industry has failed to recruit and train sufficient apprentices but the skills crisis has been masked by the heavy reliance on migrant labour,” says Unite. After Brexit that option should no longer be so easily available.

The solution is to hire young people here. Despite the chatter in the media about the young not wanting to do heavy work such as construction, Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail reports that there are 1,000 applicants for each good-quality apprenticeship.

Government should help through using its procurement muscle to ensure the recruitment of high-quality apprentices. That’s something we can and must do once free of EU state aid regulations.


• Related article: Why high-quality apprenticeships matter