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Training as an apprentice is the best way to learn a trade, says the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). A survey carried out by the FMB of its members in the run up to National Apprenticeship Week 2012, which took place in February, found the apprenticeship tradition was alive and strong among small construction firms.

Providing young people with employment opportunities and making sure a business has people with the right skills were also listed as the top reasons for employing an apprentice by FMB members. However, when asked about the biggest barriers to hiring an apprentice, FMB members ranked ‘a lack of confidence in the economy and future workloads’ higher than anything else.

Brian Berry, FMB Director of External Affairs, said: “National Apprenticeship Week is a fantastic way to promote the benefits of apprenticeships to employers and future apprentices. The apprenticeship challenge in the construction sector is about growing the supply of skilled and qualified workers in line with the industry’s needs. We are very pleased the Government has decided to make apprenticeships a spending priority,

but it is employers who are at the heart of the apprenticeship system and it is extremely difficult to anticipate much growth in the number of construction apprenticeships without growth in the industry.

“The Government’s proposal for an incentive payment for small employers is welcome but the Government is risking the success of this policy by excluding small businesses with previous experience of training apprentices. These businesses are no less discouraged by the cost of hiring an apprentice, especially at the current time when most small building firms are struggling to maintain workloads. What the Government should be doing is introducing more flexibility into the ‘Small Employer Incentive’ eligibility criteria so that small businesses with a history of employing apprentices are not excluded to the detriment of the young people the Government says it wants to help.

“The Government needs to allow a flexible approach to funding so that the apprenticeship programme really can meet the needs of employers. This means ensuring that reduced levels of funding for 19+

Brian Berry.

apprenticeships do not hamper progression. 16-18 year old apprenticeship starts should be fully funded through to the ‘advanced’ level 3, regardless of the apprentice’s age upon conversion from level 2 to level 3. If an employer is asked to contribute to the ‘off-the-job’ training costs as well as the employment and supervisory costs, this makes an advanced apprenticeship much less attractive.”

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Veka trade fabricator Modplan continues to invest in staff training, recognising the added value this brings to the company, employees and its customers.

Managing director, Heidi Sachs, said:

“We are passionate about training and development and the value it adds to both our business and our customers’ businesses. Investing in training has helped us to improve our quality and improve staff morale because everyone can see how much we value them and what they bring to our team.”

The management team has set high standards, having achieved the Institute of Leadership and Management Level 5 in Service Improvement. Work towards the accreditation involved formulating and

implementing an action plan to improve an aspect of the company’s service, which means that the training offers immediate practical benefits to its customers.

On the shop floor, members of the team

are working towards NVQ qualifications ranging from Level 2 to Level 5. Again, part of the course work involves suggesting improvements that could be made in the working environment. One member of the team suggested an improvement to the way the saw bay operated, something which resulted in an improvement in efficiency.

Heidi said: “We know that our staff are our best assets, but improvements like this demonstrate just how true that is.”

Modplan also showed a commitment to its local community by being one of

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the companies taking part in a Caerphilly County Borough Council and Working Links initiative. As part of a strategy to help the long-term unemployed back into work, the scheme offers individuals who have been out of work for six months or more a placement within a local company and the possibility of the offer of full time employment at the end of the placement should an opportunity exist. The scheme has been successful for Modplan and the company has employed several new members of staff via this route.

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