Rise in plumbing courses fails to address the skills gap
The industry is being flooded by trainees with basic plumbing qualifications rather than the higher skills needed to address the skills gap, according to the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).
It has criticised a number of training providers for promoting lower cost plumbing courses to employers at the expense of the wider scoped building services apprenticeships and has urged employers to set their sights higher and get “two apprentices for the price of one”.
Many colleges promote plumbing short courses because they are cheaper to deliver, but employers receive far better value for money if they enrol their staff on more technically demanding training such as the new Trailblazer apprenticeships or an installer, craftsperson and service & maintenance course, rather than retraining them afterwards as BSE Installers according to BESA’s director of training Tony Howard.
“The CITB’s Construction Skills Network forecast predicts shortages of plumbers in London, but nowhere else. Also, its research does not differentiate between the skills sets or address the chronic shortage of building services engineering installers,’ he said.
“Employers are still being pushed towards plumbing instead of pipework qualifications. Why would you accept that? Pilots all undertake the same basic training, but people flying off on their summer holidays this year in an Airbus A320 might be a little nervous if they knew the pilot had only trained on a Cessna.”
Mr Howard believes that the same principle applies in the building services sector and challenged employers to look at what they were actually getting for their money.
“You shouldn’t think it’s not your money because you aren’t paying the Apprenticeship Levy. You will still be out of pocket if you have to fill the skills gaps left by training providers and pay for the wastage and refits created by unskilled workers.”
He added that the regulatory compliance ‘tick box’ culture that dominates construction-related professions had forced skills down to the level of basic competence rather than focussing on higher skill levels that can contribute to better performing buildings.
“As a result, there is a surfeit of short courses designed simply to get people into the industry, which has undermined our skills base. We have ended up with lots of people only capable of carrying out basic activities – the plumbing and gas sectors being the worst offenders.
“I believe in competency training and assessment, but a short programme or quick course is not the way to set up our future workforce. On the contrary, it is setting people up to fail,” said Mr Howard.
BESA argues that, by investing in training at a higher level, employers can get the workforce they need for the right medium term price.
“They get the skills short courses may offer anyway and more; plus you get loyalty from an individual you have provided with a real career specialism in a mechanical or electrical discipline,” explained Mr Howard.
“Apprenticeships work by boosting economic productivity, growing our skills base and giving millions a leg up on the ladder of opportunity,” he added. “Over 90% of apprentices currently go into work or further training – and they are not building up student debt along the way.”
BESA is working with building engineering employers to develop targeted Trailblazer apprenticeships in key technical sectors including: installation; service & maintenance; heating and plumbing; ductwork; ventilation hygiene; refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps; and has also started work on developing apprenticeships at higher and degree level.
The Association is on the Register of Approved Training Providers (RoATP) as Piper Training Ltd, for delivering apprentice training. It is also supporting employers, apprenticeships and those with experienced workers looking for professional assessment.
BESA is currently approving a series of training centres nationwide to deliver its courses, including ventilation hygiene and F Gas training. It is also developing experienced worker assessments and accredited courses covering electrical, heating and hot water, air conditioning and heat pumps, ventilation, renewables, and health & safety – all of which are designed to support the Apprenticeships.
“This is all part of our commitment to deliver a range of training benefits to BESA members and help them access funding to develop skilled workforces that can grow their businesses,” said Mr Howard.