11th October 2021

Apprenticeships and the future work force

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Employment in the construction sector fell from 2.3m in 2017 to 2.1m at the end of 2020. This represents a 4% fall in UK-born workers and a 42% fall in EU workers, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Clearly the construction sector is currently facing an unprecedented shortage of skilled labour. And there is more to come. A further reduction is anticipated in the next ten years as a demographic bulge of 50 to 65-year-olds retires.

Replenishing the existing labour force –  and creating a skilled and trained work force for the future – is of paramount urgency to meet current needs and the needs of the industry of the future.

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC)’s Industry Skills Plan 2021-2025 highlights the following essentials on its agenda for the next four years:

  • Grow the number of apprentices
  • Make construction a sector of choice for young people
  • Drive a culture of innovation
  • Enable access to the industry for all groups to improve diversity

Clearly, Apprenticeship Schemes can play a major role in providing a home grown solution within the construction industry.

Yet Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) policy director Steve Radley, told Construction News: “Apprenticeship starts have been down. We’re saying they’re probably down by about 40 per cent on normal levels” (Feb 2021).

The way forward at Axis

Here at Axis running an apprenticeship scheme is in our DNA: all four of our main Board Directors were once apprentices! Axis was founded – and is still owned and managed – by two brothers who were both bricklaying apprentices; our Chief Financial Officer and Company Secretary was an Engineering Apprentice and our Painting and Projects Managing Director learnt his craft when he was a Painting and Decorating Apprentice.

We are proud of our apprenticeship scheme and remain committed to hiring apprentices. Apprentices consistently represent 10% of our work force – our total number of apprentices in 2021 is 93.

Indeed, becoming an apprentice at Axis is highly contested. In 2021, after a rigorous screening campaign, the company interviewed more than 70 applicants face to face. Of these, 23 successful applicants joined our team in September 2021.

The range of trades in which we offer apprenticeships includes Gas, Electrics, Carpentry, Multi-Trader, Plumbing, Painting, Quantity Surveying and Administration.

Axis has a dedicated Apprentice Co-ordinator and Apprentice Master. Regular meetings and Apprentices’ Breakfasts ensure that Axis Apprentices learn and share their experiences as well as receive regular contact and support from Managers.

Mutual gain

By running an apprenticeship scheme (which has been in operation since Axis was founded) we gain a loyal, qualified and experienced workforce. And our apprentices – who earn and learn – gain meaningful qualifications including NVQs and degrees, real life training with industry experts, relevant practical skills and a long-term future career either with us or as sole traders in our supply chain.

“At Axis we have employees from thirty two ethnic backgrounds who speak twenty three languages in addition to English. We take our apprentices from all walks of life. Here everyone can thrive. We take our people on as Apprentices, to mould and train them so they learn our rigorous systems and our way of working as well as learning their job,” says Axis Founder, Chairman and CEO John Hayes. He tells the new apprentices on their welcome day: “Starting today, you are on a journey of excellence.”

New apprenticeship standards

In 2021, we developed a new ‘Apprenticeship Standards’ scheme. Michelle Workman, Apprentice Coordinator, explains that the new scheme means longer courses and a new endpoint assessment for Axis Apprentices.

“Longer durations mean more site experience and more time for the apprenticeship. The assessment allows us to know that a college or training provider (separate from their own) has assessed competency in their chosen occupation.

“Apprentices also have 20% ‘off the job learning’ built into the apprenticeships now, which is one day a week of college and additional learning activities to broaden their experience, knowledge and skills of their chosen occupation. It can be a whole host of things: online learning, toolbox talks, meetings, shadowing, research. They have to evidence their 20% learning – an extra focus for employers.”

Our apprentices dress in distinctive orange workwear –  to borrow a well-known phrase, the future is indeed a very bright orange!

In the Words of Axis’ Apprentices

“I know I want to carry on working at Axis. I want to stay in Electrics and gain as much specialised knowledge as I can. I’m just looking forward to going out on any job by myself and having the confidence to know exactly what to do. A lot of my friends who are at college at the moment or decided to go into something they may not feel passionate about, are regretting not taking an apprenticeship” – Joshua Hill, Electrics Apprentice

“For me, the highlight has been finishing my Plumbing apprenticeship and learning a bunch of new skills and having hands-on experience. There’s a big difference when you look at something in a textbook than when you do it in real life and that’s exactly what I needed” – Jamie Huda, Plumbing Apprentice

  • Bradley Vince is an Apprentice Plumber just coming to the end of his apprenticeship, after two years. He is now moving on to an apprenticeship in Gas. Interview here
  • Emily Skipp has just completed a five-year Quantity Surveying Degree Apprenticeship achieving First Class Honours.  Interview
  • Francesca Fordham, Apprentice Painter, gains NVQ and diploma. Interview here
  • Commercial Manager, Barnaby Havercroft, began his Axis life as an Apprentice Quantity Surveyor and we spoke to him earlier about his career journey. Interview here
  • From Painting and Decorating Apprentice to Site Supervisor, Tyler Sansom, has been developing his career with us for 6-years. Interview here

Attracting Talent

In addition to our apprenticeship schemes, we offer work experience placements, internships, mentoring schemes and work inspiration career workshops, as well as site visits to students to encourage young people into the industry.

We address – and bust through our own examples – industry myths that the construction work is dirty, non-inclusive, dangerous, old-fashioned, poorly paid and solely site-based.

Building through Training

Internally, our in-house Learning Management Systems, bespoke Leadership Management course and external training retain and develop our home grown labour force of the future.

Of our eight Core Values, Axis’ Core Value 3 is ‘Train and develop people, their growth becomes our growth’.

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