First step to improving vocational status

Unite, the construction union, has warned that proposals by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) to give the official titles of craftsperson and master craftsperson to workers who undertake an apprenticeship would be a small step – but not the ‘silver bullet’ needed – to dramatically improve the quality of construction apprentices.

Unite believes that the SMF’s proposals would only be effective as part of a wider system of reforms to increase the status of construction apprentices and tackle the rapidly growing skills gap in the industry. These reforms would additionally include:

Ensuring that existing apprenticeship courses fully protect the training and standard of apprenticeships, with attainment at Level 3 being standard for advanced craft trades.

The introduction of public sector procurement rules requiring companies that secure public sector contracts to train apprentices to robust quotas, ensuring mandatory investment in the skilled workforce of tomorrow.

Registration on CSCS and affiliated trade specific skills card schemes (JIB/SJIB, ECS, ACE etc) accrediting a craftworker’s hard-won skills to nationally recognised standards.

The introduction of protected titles for construction trades. For example the Scottish government is currently consulting on making electrician a protected title that only trained electricians can use.

The licensing of competent companies alongside the creation of a competent workforce, which provides protection to consumers, the industry and the general public.

Fair pay, terms and conditions for apprentices and workers to the national collective agreements, ensuring the going rate for the job, and not statutory minimum pay rates.

Unite national officer Bernard McAulay said: “If the challenges of tackling the construction skills crisis are to be met, rather than ‘cherry pick’ one policy, we need a holistic approach which will require companies to train apprentices and provide skilled construction workers with the protection their skills and training fully deserve.”