How apprenticeships can upskill your workforce for the future

Posted on: 19 February, 2024

Apprenticeships can be the solution to the built environment’s growing skills gap. Here’s how.

As the built environment grapples with top-level challenges like climate change, population growth and economic uncertainty, the need to recruit and retain skilled professionals has never been greater.

The problem? A significant lack of skills in the industry. Digital acceleration, an ageing workforce and evolving sustainability priorities are all contributing to a major talent shortage that threatens to leave the sector far from future-proof.

In this piece, we will explore how apprenticeship schemes can create a pipeline of future talent for the built environment.

Tackling a growing skills gap

This skills gap has sparked concern in recent years, and the issue is only worsening as the working population continues to shrink and both technology and sustainability agendas advance. Anyone with responsibility for recruitment or retention knows that any new talent we acquire to plug this gap must do more than simply replace the skills and knowledge of those who leave the workforce – it must also offer the competencies for long-term future success.

As technology, for example, creates new opportunities within the workplace, employers must find candidates with the relevant digital skills. Green skills are another case in point. With a wealth of jobs generated by sustainable initiatives, there simply aren’t enough employees with the skills to fill them, and the gulf between supply and demand is growing. That’s where apprenticeships come in.

Learn more: Diagnosing the green skills gap: what skills is the built environment missing?

As David Ashford, People and Culture Lead at Ward Williams Associates, points out, building talent pipelines through apprenticeship schemes is essential for the industry:

“It’s a massive recruitment issue. There just aren’t enough quantity surveyors in this country, so we have to grow our own.”

The ‘win–win’ of upskilling

It’s also clear that learning and development provision is a huge draw for employees, with recent research finding that 41% will look for another job in 2024 if their company doesn’t provide them with training opportunities.  The same survey found that 57% of respondents agree that the ‘shelf life’ of skills is shorter than it used to be.

This appetite for ongoing development and opportunities for ‘upskilling’ is good news for employers who are already struggling with recruitment and retention in the current marketplace. It’s a win–win situation, in fact. By investing in your existing workforce, you will not only cut your recruitment costs but also fulfil staff ambitions for professional development and give employees a tangible reason to stay in their roles and grow with you.

Incredibly flexible, apprenticeships are the ideal way to focus your upskilling strategy to best effect. They can be used at any level of the organisation and allow you to upskill whichever roles you wish.

Learn more: Encouraging existing staff to upskill

From consolidating training for entry-level staff to mapping out clear routes for employee development and career progression, they do much more than simply fill skills gaps. In fact, top-tier apprenticeships are at Master’s degree level, enabling your top talent to acquire a depth of knowledge that they can use to help move your business forward.

Unlocking potential with government funding

Thanks to the government’s apprenticeship levy, apprenticeships are an extremely cost-effective way of upskilling your staff and unlocking workforce potential.

If you’re a large employer that pays the apprenticeship levy, you’re already contributing towards the programme. And if you’re in the majority of businesses that don’t pay the levy, you’re eligible for between 95% and 100% funding of the cost of the apprenticeship training fees.

Crucially, your apprentices will develop their skills ‘on the job’, so there’s no delay while you wait for theory to be translated into practice. With more or less immediate results, upskilling staff through apprenticeships is a proactive solution to the urgent problem of the skills gap in our built environment workforce.

Improving diversity

Another key benefit of launching your own apprenticeship scheme is the boost this can give to your company’s diversity – and that of the industry at large.. As William Tobin, a building surveyor at RLB, explains:

“The apprenticeship route gives an opportunity to people who wouldn’t previously have thought of construction as an option, whether that’s surveying, sustainability, or contracts. Bringing those people into the industry increases diversity, and that opens up access to a wider range of perspectives and backgrounds that can be really valuable for the sector.”

Morag Watson, an Estates Team Leader at the Environment Agency, agrees:

“I want to be able to stand and look around my office and see a team with different backgrounds and skills that better represent the communities we serve.”

Learn more: Fostering diversity and facilitating social mobility through apprenticeships

Looking to the future

Don’t forget – while you’re focusing on training and retaining your current workforce, you’re sending out a powerful message to potential new recruits too. They will see your loyal staff and culture of continuous improvement as an integral part of your business character. They will know that you have invested in the future, whatever challenges it may hold for the built environment and beyond.

So while we don’t have a crystal ball or the answers to climate change or the energy crisis, we do know that upskilling your staff is the best way to secure the future for your business and attract new talent as well. If you are not already making the most of the available funding for apprenticeships, now is the time to take action for the future and grow those skills for life.