The Apprenticeship Levy must shape up to get Britain building, says Leo Quinn, Balfour Beatty Chief Executive
01 December 2017
Leo Quinn, Group Chief Executive at Balfour Beatty, is featured in an exclusive with Construction News discussing the Apprenticeship Levy and the need for change to boost the number and quality of apprenticeships in the construction sector.
You can read Leo’s view in full here here or below:
The Apprenticeship Levy was created to boost the number and quality of apprentices. I welcomed its creation. Our industry knows what skills shortages mean and with an ageing workforce we need action now if we are going to be able to deliver the pipeline of road, railways lines, runways, power stations, new homes and digital infrastructure to which the UK is not just committed but desperately needs.
However, when I review the impact of the Levy I see something which is acting as a drag rather than an enabler so I welcome that, in the budget, the Chancellor recognised that changes are needed.
However, as someone who has customers who need projects delivered today, next month and next year, I’m impatient to get this fixed. It’s estimated that we’ll need 400,000 more skilled construction workers in the coming years. Think about it – 400,000 people. That’s roughly the population of Bristol!
The UK can’t afford to delay and here’s what we should do:
First, it might sound like something out of Yes, Minister but in many cases the regulator hasn’t yet approved the courses people are already being trained on meaning that firms are paying twice – once for the training and once for the Levy. This needs to be addressed immediately: courses must be approved faster so that Levy funds can be used for training. It’s essential that the process for approving courses is smooth, efficient and responsive to employers’ needs.
Second, the way the Levy is structured at the moment, many companies will use it to upskill their existing workforce, actually reducing rather than increasing the number of new people they are bringing in to the sector. Of course we need to upskill, but we must significantly increase the number of talented people entering the industry.
We need to make sure that everyone can use their Levy pots - smaller companies need more support to understand how they can access funds and some associated costs – such as accommodation for block release or travel expenses – should be allowable from the Levy. An employer looks at the total cost of training when deciding whether or not to invest in new roles.
Finally, the definition of an apprenticeship must be expanded to include pre-apprenticeships, work experience and shared apprenticeships. The latter would allow small companies to share the training of an apprentice rather than making a commitment they may not be able to fulfill or deciding not to take on an apprentice at all.
The Government is committed to 3,000,000 apprenticeship starts by 2020. This is an ambitious target - but we need to shift the focus to completions. Our measure of success must be the number of individuals who have achieved the full set of skills the industry needs over the long-term: we need more learners to complete their courses. Only when we achieve this will we know that the Levy is successfully tackling our national skills shortage.
We need to build to keep our country moving, keep the lights on, our water flowing and new houses for people to live in. There’s not a second to lose in fixing this problem.
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Notes to editors:
Balfour Beatty (www.balfourbeatty.com) is a leading international infrastructure group. With 30,000 employees, we provide innovative and efficient infrastructure that underpins our daily lives, supports communities and enables economic growth. We finance, develop, build and maintain complex infrastructure such as transportation, power and utility systems, social and commercial buildings.
Our main geographies are the UK, US and Far East. Over the last 100 years we have created iconic buildings and infrastructure all over the world including the London Olympics’ Aquatic Centre, Hong Kong’s first Zero Carbon building, the National Museum of the Marine Corps in the US and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.