Confidence amongst Scottish construction employers has held steady at PLUS 2 during the last three months of 2016, the same level recorded during the previous quarter. This is the headline finding of the latest Scottish Construction Monitor, a quarterly survey of the membership of leading industry trade association the Scottish Building Federation, which consists of hundreds of building companies located throughout Scotland, from Orkney to the Borders.
This is the second consecutive quarter during which the overall confidence of the industry has been rated positive after a slump in confidence to MINUS 19 at the end of June, immediately following the UK referendum vote to leave the European Union.
The latest survey also asked a series of questions about craft apprenticeships and proposals now being floated to abolish the skills test craft apprentices in construction are traditionally required to undergo before completing their four year apprenticeship.
Taken during the fourth and final year of their apprenticeship, the skills test is typically overseen by an industry employer and is designed to verify that the apprentice’s practical skills in their chosen craft have achieved a suitable standard that is acceptable to the industry.
It is being suggested that the skills test could be removed from the nine construction craft apprenticeships at SVQ Level 3 with effect from the 1st April next year. These frameworks cover key construction trades such as joinery, carpentry, plastering and bricklaying.
The skills test underpins the principle that craft apprentices can only complete their apprenticeship after fulfilling an industry determined time-served period in director employment, typically four years. There are concerns that the removal of the skills test could allow an apprentice to become qualified after successful completion of their college module programme, meaning that the time-served element of the apprenticeship could also disappear.
An overwhelming 96% of respondents to the survey agreed that SVQ Level 3 apprenticeships in construction should retain the requirement to complete a skills test. Almost nine in ten also agreed that this category of apprenticeships should continue to have a defined time-served element to them. Meanwhile, 40% of employers completing the survey said that the removal of the skills test would make them less likely to recruit craft apprentices in the future. Respondents to the survey represented businesses employing more than 7,000 Scottish construction workers, including more than 730 apprentices.
Commenting on the survey results, Scottish Building Federation Managing Director Vaughan Hart said:
“Overall, construction employers are continuing to feel cautiously optimistic about the outlook for their businesses over the next 12 months, reflecting a more general feeling of very cautious optimism about the outlook for the Scottish economy in 2017. But I think that sentiment is very finely balanced and there is equally a lot of uncertainty about how the construction sector and the economy as a whole will actually perform next year. For this reason, the industry’s overall confidence rating remains only marginally positive this quarter.”
On the issue of craft apprenticeships, Vaughan Hart added:
“This survey is an initial snapshot of industry employers’ views and we will continue to survey our own members and the industry more broadly about what they think should happen to craft apprenticeships in the future. But the results of this survey point to an overwhelming level of support for retaining the skills test as a core plank of SVQ Level 3 craft apprenticeship frameworks – and a vital quality assurance tool. We believe that the skills test is the only proven and practical means of ensuring apprentices have reached the necessary competency within their chosen craft, proving they have the on-the-job skills they will need for a successful future career in construction.”
Vaughan Hart concluded:
“Extracting the skills test from the qualification would not only undermine the current high standard of apprenticeship training in construction but, as our survey shows, would have a hugely damaging impact on future recruitment of apprentices. Furthermore, we are concerned that removing the skills test will lead to a “fast track” approach to apprenticeships by some training providers, thereby undermining the very nature of our apprenticeship model.”
Notes to Editors
1.Scottish Building Federation (SBF)
The SBF promotes the interests of the construction industry to a diverse range of stakeholders and is the leading employers’ federation for the industry, representing hundreds of companies from Orkney to the Borders.
2.Scottish Construction Monitor
60 Scottish construction firms completed the survey online or by post between the 9th and 20th December 2016. Businesses were categorised in terms of size (no. of employees and turnover).
3.Business Confidence Index methodology
The Scottish Construction Monitor is calculated from the responses to the following:
“Overall, how would you describe your confidence in the economic prospects facing your business over the next 12 months, compared to the previous 12 months?”
A score is applied to each response as shown below, and an average score calculated:
|Much more confident||+100|
|Slightly more confident||+50|
|Slightly less confident||-50|
|Much less confident||-100|
Using this method, a Confidence Index of +100 would indicate that all survey respondents were much more confident about future prospects, while -100 would indicate that all survey respondents were much less confident about future prospects.