Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Steve Hutin, the managing director of Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd., leads the lifting industry’s appeal for reformed education and greater appreciation of apprenticeships.
We might be on the cusp of a crisis. Our industry is suffering a major skills shortage and I can only see it getting worse. If we don’t do something to attract more young, skilled professionals into the crane and rigging industry, the future of the sector is going to look bleak in, say, 10 years from now. Such is my level of concern, it’s been a goal at my company for the last three years to lower our average age and secure our future.
Moreover, when I talk to colleagues, peers, trade association leaders and others at networking events or industry shows, there is a consensus that the whole country is facing a skilled labour shortage. We’re ahead of the curve at Rope and Sling, and I know we’ll meet our objectives—we’re already seeing positive results—but this blog isn’t about us, it’s about the whole industry and the UK’s vocational future. Brexit is further clouding the issue.
Earlier this month (March), we marked the 10th National Apprenticeship Week, coordinated by the National Apprenticeship Service and designed to celebrate apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy. The week brought together employers and apprentices from across England to celebrate the success of apprenticeships over the last decade and sought to encourage more people to choose apprenticeships as a fast-track to a great career.
I warmly applaud the initiative, but to reverse a national trend that has become deeply engrained will take a 52-week-a-year focus on apprenticeships and their importance to our trade sectors and economy in a wider sense.
We need to start at the beginning and accept that our education system is the root cause of the problem. We’ve created a generation of talented, bright young people who are blinkered and too narrowly focussed on office or desk-based professions.
It’s long been unfashionable to want to pursue a career that requires getting one’s hands dirty. Most young people making career decisions are steering away from trades that might require them to work out in the cold, building walls or repairing roof tiles. They’d rather sit on a chair in a warm office than learn from a skilled craftsman and become the next generation of plasterers, riggers, plumbers, builders or tree surgeons.
Our education system is compounding the problem. There needs to be more of a bridge between education and the real world. I’m not an expert on education and am not trying to be. I recognise that not all subjects at schools are taught because that knowledge can be directly applied to the workplace. I understand the variety of subject matter is taught to develop the ability to learn and appeal to young people of different abilities. But it’s still falling short of what should be reasonable expectations.
National Apprenticeship Week and increased awareness of the problem is starting to inspire change but there’s a long way to go.
The balance is wrong. The educational mix needs to be drastically altered so communication, business, practical skills and more should be introduced to the curriculum. I find it mind boggling that students can get as far as further education without being able to apply basic business theorem or understand their responsibilities to themselves and the sectors in which they will go onto earn a living and feed their families. Many 20 somethings don’t even know what they want to do for a career, yet, they’ve passed thousands of exams.
Every young person is different. If a 13 year old is starting to take a shine to more practical subject matter, they should be encouraged to pursue that and tailor a career path accordingly. We want the next generation of below-the-hook professionals and riggers to be proud of their careers, dedicated to the industry, supported by an apprenticeship scheme that exposes them to the right skills and senior people, backed by employers who are committed to their future. The lifting industry, for example, isn’t only for people who couldn’t quite make the grade in GCSE history, damn it.
I’m prepared to practice what I preach. If my son wants to pursue a trade I’d support him through the apprenticeship process. Further, we use apprenticeships to drive change and progression at Rope and Sling. We have employed administration and workshop staff who learn the ropes, literally, with us whilst taking college classes at other times during the week. I agree with National Apprenticeship Week leaders, it’s a hugely successful way of recruiting and starting a career. Everyone wins.
I’d go further than that and say that apprenticeships teach young people a valuable life lesson that learning is ongoing. Because workplace experience is gained alongside tailored classroom sessions, they understand that education isn’t about cramming for an exam for a period of time, taking a test, then forgetting about it. I’ve been in the industry 24 years and I still learn something every day. I tell my apprentices that all the time.
I fear the current education system doesn’t get that message across. There’s a mentality that, ‘I’ve finished my education so I’m done with learning’. Really, that’s when the important learning should start. It’s a dangerous mindset to walk into a company on one’s first day and assume the degree that finished the previous summer is going to carry one through to retirement. We’ve got to get beyond that myth.
As National Apprenticeship Week 2017 drew to a close, Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Robert Halfon spoke about money for new technical routes to rival A Levels, which was music to my ears. To truly raise the profile of apprenticeships, however, we’ve got to keep them at the top of the political and educational agenda all year round.
Thank you for reading—and keep engaging with us on Twitter at @RopeandSling #RopeandSling
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd