For several years now, the construction sector has suffered from a skills shortage.
Last year we reported on that shortage and the plans made by the UK government to tackle the shortage through apprenticeships. The government committed to an additional 3,000,000 apprenticeship starts across all industries in England by 2020 and from April 2017, following the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, taxpayers would no longer be funding new apprenticeships (for more see here).
With the general election fast approaching we look at the manifestos published by the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats and consider what they mean for apprenticeships and the construction skills shortage.
Conservative Party "Guarantee"
At the outset of the Conservative Party manifesto, Boris Johnson says that he guarantees "Millions more invested every week in science, schools, apprenticeships and infrastructure while controlling debt".
2020 Job Market
The manifesto states that the 2020s will see a transformation in jobs, that automation and computing will change how businesses function, that clean energy and a carbon-neutral future will mean new kinds of jobs in new industries, and that this will require a "dramatic rebooting" of the UK's training system in order to support public services, existing businesses and businesses of the future.
The Conservative Party says it will help employers invest in skills and to look at how the working of the Apprenticeship Levy can be improved.
The manifesto states that in the next Parliament, the Conservatives "expect to train up hundreds of thousands more highly skilled apprentices". In addition, the Conservatives say they will "require significant numbers of new UK apprentices for all big new infrastructure projects – new hospitals, new schools, major transport projects and so on".
National Skills Fund
The manifesto says that at the core of the Conservatives' skills plan is the creation of "a new National Skills Fund worth £3 billion over the next Parliament". The Conservatives go on to say that the fund will provide matching funding for individuals and SMEs for high-quality education and training with a proportion being reserved for further strategic investment in skills.
The Labour Party manifesto claims that the current Apprenticeship Levy has been "beset by problems, leaving employers paying into a training budget they are unable to spend. And it is not delivering for small businesses."
Labour's solution is that it says it will "make it easier for employers to spend the levy by allowing it to be used for a wider range of accredited training, in line with guidelines set by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and government's wider priorities for the economy".
It also says that small businesses will be helped by "increasing the amount that can be transferred to non-levy-paying employers to 50%" and by "introducing an online matching service to help levy-paying businesses find smaller businesses to transfer their funds to".
Labour says it will launch a new "Climate Apprenticeship programme to enable employers to develop the skills needed to lead the world in clean technology". Under this programme, Labour expects employers to allocate 25% of the funds in their Apprenticeship Levy accounts to training Climate Apprentices. They envisage that the funds will be "spent directly or allocated to a ring-fenced Climate Apprenticeship Fund, which will be topped up with any surplus raised through Inclusive Ownership Funds and made accessible to non-levy-paying businesses".
Under the Inclusive Ownership Funds, it says that "up to 10% of a company will be owned collectively by employees, with dividend payments distributed equally among all, capped at £500 a year, and the rest being used to top up the Climate Apprenticeship Fund".
Finally, Labour says that bursaries will be available "to women, BAME people, care leavers, ex-armed forces personnel, and people with disabilities to encourage them to take up Climate Apprenticeships".
National Skills Strategy
In their manifesto, the Liberal Democrats propose to develop a "national skills strategy for key sectors, including zero-carbon technologies, to help match skills and people" and the new "Skills Wallet" which they say will allow people to retrain and upskill when they need to.
The Liberal Democrats say they will set up a new Skills Wallet for every adult, "giving people £10,000 to spend on approved education and training courses to gain the right skills for the jobs of the future". They go on to say that:
- "The government will put in £4,000 at age 25, £3,000 at age 40 and £3,000 at age 55
- Individuals, their employers and local government will be able to make additional payments into the wallets
- Individuals can choose how and when to spend this money on a range of approved education and training courses from providers who are regulated and monitored by the Office for Students
- Individuals will have access to free careers guidance to help them to decide how to spend the money in their Skills Wallet
- The Government will work with industry to identify skills needs and to evaluate and certify courses".
The Liberal Democrats say they will expand the Apprenticeship Levy into a wider "Skills and Training Levy" to help prepare the UK's workforce for the economic challenges ahead "with 25 per cent of the funds raised by the levy going into a 'Social Mobility Fund' targeted at areas with the greatest skill needs".
The Liberal Democrats say they will "identify and seek to solve skills gaps such as the lack of advanced technicians by expanding higher vocational training like foundation degrees, Higher National Diplomas, Higher National Certificates and Higher Apprenticeships". They also plan to develop National Colleges "as national centres of expertise for key sectors, such as renewable energy, to deliver the high-level vocational skills that businesses need".
While the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos do not mention the construction industry skills shortage expressly, the Apprenticeship Levy and any plans to upskill the UK workforce are relevant to the construction industry – particularly with continuing traction in the development of modern methods of construction (including automation, use of drones, robotics, newly invented materials, and other innovative time-saving and "smart" technologies).
Specifically, it is interesting that all of the manifestos that we have looked at contain proposals that will lead to further consideration of and / or changes to the Apprenticeship Levy – by reviewing how it can be improved, or by making it easier for employers to spend, or by expanding it.
And so, regardless of which party wins the election, with each manifesto containing statements about the Apprenticeship Levy, changes to this Levy may therefore follow which in turn may help to continue to address the skills shortage in the construction industry.