In the second of a three-part interview, UK Construction Online talk exclusively with Graham Hasting-Evans, Managing Director of the National Open College Network (NOCN), about encouraging mature people into the construction industry and other alternatives to solving the skills shortage.
Do you think enough is being done to encourage more mature people to retrain in the construction industry because a lot of the apprenticeships schemes seem to be targeting young people?
I think they do need to encourage people and it is interesting that on quite a few of our apprenticeships we do get older people. They’re not talking about the school leavers, in fact, I would say that half the people are adults that are unemployed. We as a charity started off helping the unemployed to get into work – that is why we were set up 30 years ago.
I think more needs to be done to encourage adults into these apprenticeships and that can be done for people that are not just unemployed but those in the workforce that are perhaps a labourer with limited skills. They could go into an apprenticeship and become an excavator driver, a steel fixer or roofer for example. Most of the employers see upskilling the existing workforce as an important aspect. In that sense, the employers have got a different view than the government. The government focus is all about young apprentices. I think there should be a focus on young apprentices but not at the expense of adult apprentices. They should be encouraging upskilling in the workforce.
Do you think older people get the opportunity or there is a biased towards younger people in the construction industry?
The industry in my experience is quite open. We even take people out of prison where other industries won’t. It is quite an open and welcoming industry, though probably not for women but that is changing.
There isn’t any problem with them taking older people; there is no issue. There is nothing in the industry that stops it, it’s government policy I think influencing things where they put the money. So if they put the money into younger people, it draws people in that direction. The government I think has not focused enough on adult skills and they have spent too much time and money focusing on younger people.
Do you think training and employing ex-offenders might offer a solution to some of the problems?
Quite a lot of prisoners do go into construction. I don’t know the full percentage but I think about 60-70% of prisoners find their way into construction because it is an open industry because if you can get the skills and it is a real opportunity to upskill people.
The construction industry doesn’t have that bias as long as you are honest on the site. Obviously they wont make you the financial director if you’ve been in for fraud!
In my time, I have worked with people that were ex-prisoners; as long as they do the work, we don’t care. There is no prejudice in the industry around that but the concern that people have got is drug taking. Most roles involve handling some type of tools or machinery, therefore they have to be clean.
Otherwise, it’s a massive health and safety risk both to themselves and others. That’s the issue – they would be more worried about drug taking rather than whether you have been in prison or not.
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