Judith Cummins, MP for Bradford South, has highlighted the need for a radical overhaul of our skills policy to help places like Bradford, one of the top 40 constituencies to be affected by automation in the coming years.
Cummins identified that 15% of her constituents have no qualifications compared to the UK average of 8%, whilst only 14% are qualified to a degree level or above compared to 31% nationally.
Despite backing changes to the apprenticeship levy, she criticised the use of unused levy funds and a lack of strong industrial sectoral voices to help drive collective action from employers.
The National Federation of Builders (NFB) agrees that the skills policy needs to be significantly changed, particularly in places such as Bradford. However, the conversation on the subject seems to ignore the process by which a skilled workforce is both trained and employed.
In construction, where automation is being championed by all politicians as a panacea for the housing crisis and skill shortage, 66% of apprentices are trained and retained by SMEs. And yet, they only build 33% of all homes.
Cummins explained how SMEs identify a major barrier to development in the complexity of the current levy system, but the NFB is surprised that issues such as late payment and a complex procurement process did not emerge as the greatest obstacles to growth for SMEs in construction, as they directly affect their ability to hire new apprentices and invest in existing staff.
Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB, said:
“SMEs are the predominant rural employer and train the majority of apprentices. Hiring within fifteen miles of their head offices, a fifth of SMEs operate in construction. As the leading voice for construction SMEs, we need politicians to understand how a skilled workforce is locally sustained.”
Nick Sangwin, incoming NFB national chair and regional chair for the north east, said:
“We need to re-look at the procurement process to involve successful regional contractors and SME’s more on frameworks. These are the companies that retain and train the workforce, but they need a steady pipeline of work to do this. They also pay their subcontractors and supply chain quicker.”
Nick Sangwin is also managing director for Sangwin Group, based in the north east.