TO MARK National Apprenticeship Week, ConstructionSkills is urging Basingstoke builders to consider the benefits of taking on an apprentice.

The training body has introduced Programme Led Apprenticeships (PLAs) to complement traditional apprenticeships – allowing young people to complete a full-time college-based course before completing the practical aspects, through a continuous placement of up to 12 months with an employer.

ConstructionSkills apprenticeship manager Robbie Beecher (OK) said that each year, thousands of candidates pass the organisation’s selection test to ensure they meet appropriate apprenticeship standards.

But more employers are needed to give apprentices a start, particularly in the current tough economic climate when some firms may question, or reduce, their commitment to staff training.

Mr Beecher said: “Apprentices are essential to the construction industry and they can be an invaluable asset to any company.

“Unfortunately, many firms still think that taking on an apprentice is costly or time- consuming, or that drop-out rates are high but, at over 70 per cent, ConstructionSkills apprentices have some of the best completion rates in the industry.”

Mr Beecher said that ConstructionSkills offers ongoing mentoring and support from an apprenticeship officer, as well as a range of financial support including a grant of up to £9,820 over three years to support apprenticeship training.

He said: “A recession is not a time to decrease training levels and, if that happens, the region’s long-term skills deficit will be severe.

“These are issues we still face from the recession in the 1990s. Instead, it is crucial that firms continue to invest in staff training in order to be in a stronger business position when the industry inevitably comes out of this downturn.”

Sherborne St John-based R W Armstrong & Sons, which specialises in the high- quality renovation, extension and refurbishment of period and country homes, is backing the call to action, having seen the benefits first hand.

The firm employs 15 apprentices across a range of trades – including carpenters, joiners, bricklayers and painters and decorators.

Lena Shelbourn, HR advisor at RW Armstrong & Sons, explained: “It has enabled us to ensure that all new recruits are getting a solid grounding to their profession and specialist trade whilst attending the weekly college course, coupled with the on-site experience and required evidence. “One of the main business benefits of the apprenticeship programme, led by ConstructionSkills, is the support offered to both the employer and the apprentice. “Skill gaps can be identified, which can either be addressed on site or by the college. By completing the qualification, we can reassure our clients that our employees are all trained to a required standard, which can be supported by the technical certificates. It has also improved productivity and morale by employing a valuable and enthusiastic employee to the site team.”