Unite concern over huge rise in ‘dead-end’ constructio...

Unite concerned with huge rise in ‘dead-end’ construction courses

06 March 2017
A freedom of information request by Unite, the largest union for construction workers, has uncovered that thousands of young people are being placed on so-called ‘dead-end’ classroom based construction courses. The union is calling for all concerned to urgently re-think their priorities to prevent talent being lost to the industry.

The figures obtained from the Government’s Skills Funding Agency, reveal the number of classroom based construction courses increased by 14 per cent last year, totally dwarfing the number of apprentices beginning their training. The increase in classroom courses comes at a time when the construction skills gap is widening rapidly.

Unite has released the FOI figures on the first day of national apprenticeship week. The construction courses are described as ‘dead-end’ because trainees are only usually able to achieve a technical qualification, as they don’t have access to on-site training.

The only qualification recognised in construction is the NVQ and this can’t be achieved without substantial site experience. An NVQ or equivalent qualification is necessary to acquire a Construction Sector Certification Scheme (CSCS) card which is usually required to work on construction sites. In most cases people undertaking classroom training have no avenue to achieve an NVQ.

The high number of classroom courses has a major effect on the number of young people recorded as NEETs (not in education, employment or training).

In 2015/16 a total of 192,500 people began a classroom based construction course, compared to 167,000 in 2014/15 a 14 per cent increase. However during the same 12 months just 21,460 people began a construction apprenticeship. Therefore, 89 per cent of people beginning a construction course are undertaking potentially ‘dead-end’ training.

Acting general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “These figures are truly shocking. For whatever reason we find ourselves in the terrible situation of increasingly offering young people a classroom construction course but also in effect denying them the chance to acquire the qualifications needed to enter the industry in a skilled role.

“Classroom based construction teaching has a vital role to play in the training of construction apprentices. What is urgently needed is a refocussing of resources to ensure that money is more effectively invested in boosting the number of genuine apprenticeships, so that a far higher number of young people can acquire the skills and qualifications to enter the industry.”

“We need to build an effective alliance including: Unite, employers, FE colleges, apprentice providers and the government to boost apprenticeships and ensure young people are able to access meaningful courses.”

Unite has been at the forefront of increasing the number and diversity of construction apprentices. The union has secured agreement for 500 civil engineering apprentices (the traditional biblical trades) to be trained on the Hinkley Point development with a further agreement for the engineering construction side (mechanical & electrical) of one apprentice for every 10 workers on site. Unite is committed to negotiating a similar deal for HS2.

Unite are also involved in the JTL ambassador scheme which has been highly effective in increasing the number of women undertaking an electrical apprenticeship.

Gail Cartmail, added: “Unite are at the forefront of championing construction apprentices. Whenever we secure a seat at the table we ensure that major construction projects train high numbers of apprentices.

“The record of small and medium sized businesses in training apprentices is far superior to that of the major contractors. If we are going to begin bridging the skills gap then the major players must undertake far more of the heavy lifting.”


Notes to editors:

The figures obtained by the FOI request show that in 2015/16 166,300 people began a construction course at an FE/Tertiary college, 19,200 were on private sector publicly funded courses and 7,000 were on courses operated by Social Enterprises.

The Construction Industry Training Board (Board) estimates that construction needs 31,350 new entrants a year while last month consultants Arcadis estimated that the industry needed 400,000 new entrants every year until 2021.

For more information please contact Unite communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235. Email: