Shaun sheds light on a sharp fall in employer investment in new apprenticeships and why the pandemic is not solely to blame.
IN both previous and no doubt future articles I’ve always tried to highlight positive steps taken and opportunities that have arisen to address the current shortfall of skills and labour in our industry, emphasising where there are opportunities to engage with future floor layers through recruitment and signposting as well as training and funding prospects.
Ultimately, engagement and success are firmly tied to the level of employer investment in training too, something that has plummeted over the past 15 years and not just in very recent times owing to the pandemic.
The reality is employers across the UK as a whole, not just the commercial flooring sector are investing less in training and underusing apprenticeship levy funds affecting low wage workers and young people in particular. This was outlined in the research report Learning at Work – Employer investment in skills completed last year by the Learning and Work Institute in conjunction with the National Open College Network (NOCN). The key finding from that report suggested:
Employers are major investors in learning and skills (£42bn in 2019 including the wage cost of those in training) – investment that will be crucial for economic recovery and future prosperity. This report identifies falling employer investment in skills, stark inequalities with some groups and sectors missing out, and government policy that now too often follows or reinforces these inequalities rather than tackling them.
The report also revealed that lowest paid occupations, managers, specific ethnic groups and older workers are less likely to participate in training creating an inequality in comparison to graduate workers and qualifications aimed at higher levels.
Small and microbusinesses are also less likely to provide training in comparison to larger businesses and their investment has fallen the most out of all employer sizes. It concludes that employer investment was declining prior to the pandemic – and has fallen further during it.
Government plays a key role in employers’ ability to offer training in our sector, most flooring contractors will not pay the CITB levy (about 70%) so won’t have access to CITB grant* in return to help locate, subsidise, and deliver training to staff.
A small number of flooring contractors if any, will also be required to pay the government’s apprenticeship levy, with rules therefore set by government on how this money should be used and there have also been significant cuts to the adult education budget which has resulted in a 40% drop in provision over the past five years.
The Learning and Work Institute has followed last year’s report with a second, published in May 2022; Raising the bar – Increasing employer investment in skills again in conjunction with NOCN expressing the need for ‘a long-term plan for skills and growth, including a new Skills Tax Credit, reformed apprenticeship levy, and better support for people wanting to learn.’
The report is very blunt suggesting that the UK is ‘sleepwalking to stagnation in skills’ categorically stating the current system for funding of training does not work across the board and suggest a new policy framework for employer training:
- Focus on employer investment in and use of skills as part of long-term plans for growth, including trials of new locally led Skills and Good Work Partnerships
- Introduce a Skills Tax Credit, with a Super Skills Credit for levelling up areas and essential skills, at an additional cost of up to £500m per year
- Broaden the apprenticeship levy to increase the number of firms covered and allow investment in essential skills and accredited qualifications
- Explore plans to replace the current levy with a tax-based ‘pay or play’ Skills Levy to reduce administration costs for employers
- Look at ways to support people to learn and to retrain, including considering maintenance support and expanding rights to time off for learning.
I have to admit, as someone who advises on training opportunities within the flooring sector to members, some of the above resonate with day-to-day barriers flooring contractors face when looking at investing in training of their workforce, but it does place a huge amount of ownership on the employer directly. The report suggests government policy should aim to increase employer investment in skills, making employers investment in training mandatory to not just the largest companies but all companies based on their size.
Sound familiar? For those wholly or mainly engaged in construction activity it will through the CITB levy, a topic of Marmite quality within the flooring sector for reasons that would see me typing for days. For government to deliver on its pledge to ‘Build Back Better’ something needs to be done on both a wider construction scale, but in my opinion, for the flooring industry simply asking employers to pay more for training is not the answer, it’s finding the people to train and where they will receive locally delivered training that are the first hurdles.
CFA continues to work on this and very soon will be launching our proposal to combat the skills and labour crisis within the flooring industry, but in the meantime if you have your own take on the above or what to speak to me about training opportunities, please get in touch.
Shaun Wadsworth is CFA & FITA training manager
*It’s important to note here that all CFA members and indeed flooring contractors can claim a government grant for apprentices that covers their college placement and training. But CITB grant funding is a significant enhancement for recruitment, travel, achievement etc