CVW Editor James Moore looks at the shortage of workers in UK trade sectors in the November viewpoint.
Lord Sugar returned to our screens recently. In doing so, a new group of 16 ambitious and overly-excitable entrepreneurs also appeared; ready to do battle against each other to be crowned the latest winner of The Apprentice. Over a series of seemingly simple tasks, viewers can look forward to watching the confidence of these candidates being tested by the raised eyebrows, disapproving glances and sarcastic remarks of Sugar’s trusted advisors.
Every year, a fresh batch comes through, and every year the country makes a mockery of them. This has nothing to do with the clever editing, I’m sure – nor the apparent astonishment Lord Sugar shows every time something goes wrong. Yet, sometimes I wonder if he realises quite how lucky he is to have an endless supply of applicants. In comparison, the UK’s trade sectors are suffering from a severe shortage of workers.
It’s a problem the Government has been forced to take note of. After months of falling applications, the Apprenticeship Levy – the details of which are still a mystery to many – has been reformed, again. Bearing in mind it was only overhauled just over a year ago, the system is clearly still a work in progress. In an effort to plug the gap, Phillip Hammond has doubled the apprenticeship budget since 2010, but there is a belief this still won’t provide the necessary answers.
So what is the solution? While wholesale changes will likely need to be made by policymakers, workshops themselves can look to take a lead. The team at Willmotts Transport, for example (read the full workshop profile on page 20), has formed links with a local college, in order to support budding apprentices coming through. It’s a system that works well, according to the business, and enables young technicians to learn from on-the-job, practical experience.
Such partnerships are vital to the future of many independent workshops. With the increasingly complex, hi-tech advancements in the industry, many of which involve technology that is second nature to ‘millennials’, young apprentices will likely bring new skills and a fresh perspective to a team. Sure, the purse strings may need tightening initially, but skills that come so naturally to the younger generation will prove invaluable going forward.
Spending on your workforce does not necessarily need to be a risk, either. For those businesses that don’t have the resources or time to offer an apprentice at the start of his/her career, an investment in training could prove to be a suitable solution. The variety of courses on offer, both from suppliers and government-approved schemes, is wide. And if a day out of the workshop isn’t possible, why not look online? Web-based courses are becoming increasingly popular, while technical tips and ‘how to’ guides can support best practice techniques on the job – perhaps take a look at cvwmagazine.co.uk, for instance.
It can be difficult to take a step back and assess the options available, but encouraging a new generation of technicians into the industry is a sensible business decision at this time. Just try not to fire the first 15 that walk through the door…