058 BP 1016

BP 10 October 2016

FINAL WORD FIGHTING FOR APPRENTICESHIPS While apprentices are the lifeblood of the joinery manufacturing and woodworking sector, it seems the very framework which has been relied upon in recent years is in danger of crumbling. Iain McIlwee tells us more. As part of the inquiry into apprenticeships carried out by Parliament’s Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy last month, the British Woodworking Federation was invited to give evidence. The BWF has long articulated and lobbied for its vision of a fully trained, qualified and professional workforce for the woodworking industry, and its members are highly committed to apprenticeships. In the BWF’s latest survey, over 60% of its members indicated that they have at least one apprentice and about 50% intend to take on apprentices over the next 12 months. This is consistent with CITB figures which show there is one apprentice for every two BWF members registered with CITB – this is the highest in the specialist trades. So speaking in the House of Commons alongside organisations like the CBI, the TUC and Local Government Association was a great opportunity to raise concerns at the highest level, setting out the evidence behind the BWF’s most critical demands on training and skills. The first concern is around funding. Details are still being worked out about how the Government’s new apprenticeship levy will work, but the main thread of the current proposal is that the Government will now only pay 90% of training costs and the employer will be required to pay the rest. Proposals could also potentially impact the way colleges work. If plans continue unabated, apprenticeships in many wood trades will find themselves suddenly fighting for college space with other occupations with significantly lower capital cost and less perceived risk. Colleges are asking themselves how they will cover the capital investment of the equipment required? How do they fund woodworking as a course when you are looking at the cost between a work bench and a workstation? We have seen the erosion of woodworking in schools, and now we are starting to see the same in colleges. It cannot be underestimated the importance of qualification standards, ensuring that apprenticeships must be about quality and careers preparation. We must not simply chase numbers. Central to the BWF’s action plan for 2016/17 is a determination to finalise and launch the new apprenticeship in architectural joinery, to replace the old bench joinery apprenticeship. This aims to provide employers and new entrants to the industry with a higher quality qualification and greater flexibility of training. Work is progressing as quickly as possible on the employer-led ‘Standard’ which is required to get this new qualification into the market. The next task will be the development of the wood product manufacturing apprenticeship, also with its own Standard, which will serve the medium and large end of the joinery market. All this work will lead to higher quality apprentices coming into our industry. But the third major concern is about parity of esteem, and the industry’s ability to attract a steady stream of bright new talent. As we stress to Government time and time again, it starts well before we even think about college. It starts back in the way careers advice is given at school, the infrastructure by which people understand the industries that are available to them. There should be a ‘clearing system’ for apprentice applications similar to that for universities which would prevent wastage and also help to target interested parties with information and informed choice. Careers advice must be an intrinsic part of teacher training and given the support needed in schools. Admittedly, the loss of ProSkills as the lead body for qualification development in the joinery sector earlier this year left us with a vacuum. Thankfully industry has stepped in, and through the Confederation of Timber Industries (CTI) and the BWF leading the CTI’s work on skills, we are continuing to push on this agenda. Our target is a fully qualified and competent workforce, achieved by encouraging new blood into the industry, career pathways through apprenticeships and qualifications, and the constant renewal of skills for the workforce. If you can develop your own and produce the people you need, then that’s incentive itself. What we fundamentally lack is the infrastructure to deliver it at the moment and that is where the BWF is concentrating its efforts, working more effectively with colleges and employers. Iain McIlwee is chief executive at the British Woodworking Federation 58 BUILDING PRODUCTS | OCTOBER 2016


BP 10 October 2016
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