Encourage more young people into building industry apprenticeships, warns AECOM

Builder worker with grinder machine cutting metal parts at construction site

Attracting talent through a variety of different routes will be key to building capacity in the infrastructure sector and industry must do more to capture the imagination of young people, urges global infrastructure provider AECOM. Encouraging more young people to apply for apprenticeships after completing their GCSEs will be crucial to this prolonged approach.

Outreach programmes with schools can be an effective way to open young people’s eyes to a career in the sector and this is an activity that AECOM employees across the UK are involved with. Problem-solving work, such as building model structures using every-day and available materials, can help pupils see what a career in engineering could involve.

Given the UK’s ambitious pipeline of infrastructure projects, a key issue for industry over the coming months will be to continue to build capacity so there will be enough skilled professionals to deliver the multitude of schemes when they ramp up from 2018. Vital projects will apply pressure across the sector for years to come, so government and industry must work together to develop the necessary skills. In engineering alone, it is predicted the UK will need over 150,000 people qualified at Level 3 or above per year until 2024 (Engineering UK, State of Engineering report 2017).

The apprenticeship levy could be punitive to some of the companies that are taking the lead in training and developing the future workforce, say AECOM, as it may cause some employers to curb the number of apprentices they hire at the very time they should be ramping up apprenticeship schemes to enable delivery of the UK’s vital infrastructure programmes. Industry must continue to engage with government to ensure the intent of the scheme is met and changes implemented quickly in the event early results are not encouraging.

The apprentices hired this year will have the ability to play a meaningful role on projects in two or three years’ time, when project demand should be intense. AECOM has increased apprenticeship recruitment including the hiring of over 80 apprentices this year who will join the company in September.

AECOM’s apprenticeship development programme includes training for specialist skills that will be needed to deliver future projects. AECOM has worked closely with the Technician Apprenticeship Consortium for example, to develop new apprenticeship programmes for certain in-demand transportation disciplines, such as transport planning and rail.

Richard Robinson, chief executive civil infrastructure, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa at AECOM, said: “Pupils across the country have picked up their GCSE results and many will be considering their next career steps. In order to attract more apprentices, it is essential that our industry is able to capture the imagination of these young people.

“Stereotypes about a career in engineering or construction are still rife, but the reality is very different. Young people need to hear about the exciting, intellectually challenging work engineers do to build a better world, from designing sustainable transport and energy infrastructure to protecting people from floods or planning cities of the future.”

Robinson continued: “At AECOM we are committed to driving the apprentice agenda, as we have done over the past three years, to equip the next generation with the technical skills on which our country and the economy depends. More needs to be done, however, for industry to convince good candidates that apprenticeships offer a meaningful and rewarding career path, including sponsorship for a part-time degree at a later date.”