As we enter National Apprenticeship Week 2024, industry and education leaders are using an innovative apprenticeship approach to attract the next generation of construction workers.
While construction and education bodies have invested money, time and effort into addressing a skills shortage in recent years, Esh Group and the North East Institute of Technology (NEIoT) are hoping that a different tack will bear fruit throughout 2024 and beyond.
Since the NEIoT was founded, it set the region on a pathway for change. Esh joined as lead construction partner in 2020 and, with National Apprenticeship Week marking its 17th year this week, 24 of Esh’s apprentices are now studying NEIoT courses at delivery partners New College Durham and Middlesbrough College as the contractor aims for the cohort to prosper through an alternative approach that sees industry inform the curriculum.
The Institute of Technology’s adaptive approach to the curriculum – through which employers are influencing the curriculum by meeting regularly with educators to review plans and innovate teaching – has provided a major shift for businesses looking to recruit the workforce of the future, according to corporate affairs director for Esh, Darush Dodds.
He said: “The Institute of Technology not only puts businesses at the centre of the technical curriculum’s development and delivery but provides a direct insight into courses that we enrol our apprentices onto, while enabling businesses at the coal face to provide feedback on what is and isn’t working well.”
Nineteen-year-old Cole Wilson, from Birtley, joined Esh Group’s housing infrastructure division, Lumsden & Carroll, after making the most of a six-week work placement, during which he was offered an apprenticeship. Now studying a Level 4 HNC apprenticeship in construction engineering through the NEIoT, the trainee engineer’s advice for students is to take their opportunities when they arise.
He said: “If you are fortunate to get a chance like this, give it a go. Apprenticeships definitely benefit you in more aspects than just academic success. For me in construction, I’ve been able to build on-site experience which is just as valuable as the learning within a classroom. I want to gain as much experience in engineering as possible to hopefully progress to a senior engineer later on in my career, and I couldn’t have done that without following the apprenticeship route.”
Dodds is one of several sectoral leads to join bi-monthly meetings with NEIoT director Sharon Grant, as well as representatives from education partners. The sessions, which are followed up by sub-group meetings drive change on key topics including retrofit, digital skills and modern methods of construction (MMC).
He said: “Through the collaboration we are shaping the learners that we want, the learners our industry needs and our region requires to drive it forward. There is a perception that the construction world is cold, wet and dirty, and at times it can be. It’s our job to showcase the wide range of incredible opportunities available to those entering or transitioning within the sector. We are looking to Gen-Z to shape our future as well as their own and apprenticeships provide the perfect platform.”
NEIoT group meetings involve current programme updates, emerging theme round tables and expert guest speakers, who are invited along to provide key insight in their field of expertise, be it from a construction, advanced manufacturing, business or IT perspective, which then helps to inform change.
Dodds believes these candid and timely discussions will transform the landscape for the better. He said: “While educators listen to our needs, it’s very important we listen to our education colleagues. It’s not only construction that is encountering a skills shortage, in fact, many colleges and universities are struggling to recruit lecturers. This presents an opportunity and following some detailed modelling we hope to share some exciting updates later this year.”
NEIoT director Sharon Grant says collaboration with business and education partners is crucial to the curriculum’s success, particularly when it comes to developing future opportunities for young people. She said: “As Director of the NEIoT, I believe in shaping a future where industry and education converge seamlessly.
“By fostering collaboration and innovation, we empower learners to not only meet the needs of today’s dynamic workforce but also drive the construction industry forward with a passion for excellence and adaptability. It’s truly inspiring to see the impact our initiatives can have for our region.”
If you are fortunate to get a chance like this, give it a go. Apprenticeships definitely benefit you in more aspects than just academic success. For me in construction, I’ve been able to build on-site experience which is just as valuable as the learning within a classroom. I want to gain as much experience in engineering as possible to hopefully progress to a senior engineer later on in my career, and I couldn’t have done that without following the apprenticeship route.”