Protecting the future through procurement

The public sector is a major customer for construction, worth around 40% of the sector’s £110 million turnover according to the 2011 Government Construction Strategy.  As a key part of the wider construction industry, companies in the building services sector reap the benefit of this investment, with some firms earning a significant proportion of their turnover from public sector projects.

These companies are often smaller firms that have a strong tie to the sector’s apprenticeship heritage. They have trained apprentices throughout their time in business, and a great many continue to do so despite the recession. However, as austerity continues to bite, there is still a real need for firms to train the next generation. This will only be possible with support from Government – both local and central.

Skills shortage

There’s no denying the building services industry is facing a skills shortage in the future. It is therefore vital that we find a solution which allows us to train the next generation of skilled professionals during these difficult times, before the current crop retire or move into managerial roles. The public sector could very well be the solution.

The public sector represents a huge market for construction. Tying such a large, high-profile and influential customer into apprenticeships, through its procurement practice, would go some way to align the industry with training, and allow us to take the first step along the road to securing the future of the sector.

Employers are willing to train but, now more than ever, need to be financially incentivised to make the long term decision to invest in training. The drive to support skilled apprenticeships must come from the top of the procurement tree. If Government clients and specifiers endorse apprenticeships by making them a mandatory part of the procurement process, we will make a real difference to our skills levels.

Industrial heritage

Since it came to power nearly three years ago, the Government has thrown its weight behind apprenticeships, recognising the role apprentices play in the country’s industrial heritage, as well as its future economic success. The building services industry has always had a history of passing the torch and mentoring the next generation, but as times remain tough we need more support in protecting and preserving our future.

Given the size of the public sector market and Government’s support for apprenticeships and industry, a move to align public sector procurement and apprenticeships is logical and one which we hope will happen sooner rather than later.

There’s no denying the economy won’t recover overnight; many say things will be tough for the next four years. But even if that’s the case, we must take the necessary steps to safeguard the future of our industry. We need to have a succession plan in place and one for the sector not just the individual businesses.

Tying apprenticeships into public procurement would provide a stimulus for employers who aren’t currently training apprentices, and would reward those committed to training the next generation as they help to build the UK out of recession.

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