With National Apprenticeship Week (7-13 February) fast approaching, it is time for the property industry to re-evaluate its attitude towards skills and employment.

Nivene Powell

Nivene Powell

Until recently, many developers saw apprenticeships and traineeships as a tick-box exercise – something to fill up a chapter in a social value report. That is an outdated view, which will hamper the progression of companies that hold it. Employment and training schemes are not a nice-to-have; they are a must-have, not only for developers but also for the long-term recovery of our economy.

Our industry faces a serious skills gap. We need to build up the learning and experiences to support the next generation into construction and development jobs.

It is not only the trainees who benefit, either. In 2020, EcoWorld London launched our pre-employment training scheme in Hounslow in response to soaring unemployment rates in the borough during the pandemic. We offer a four-week programme to unemployed Hounslow residents (including a two-week placement working on our Kew Bridge project), which equips them with the certifications, hands-on skills and experience needed to work on a construction site.

In just over a year of running the scheme we have been blown away by the positive impact it has had on our employees and subcontractors who work directly with the trainees. They have developed mentoring and coaching skills and gained a huge sense of satisfaction from the feeling that they are giving back to the community.

We also truly believe that hiring people who have come from traineeships only enhances the long-term health of our business as well as local employment and the economy. People who join a company following one of these types of schemes are more likely to stay there long-term than others, studies have shown. Aside from this ‘loyalty bonus’, there is the increased productivity that comes from having a more skilled workforce. Research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that the average apprenticeship graduate increases business productivity by £214 per week.

There is also the benefit that comes from hiring people from diverse – and often underprivileged – backgrounds. It encourages everyone to embrace difference – including different ways of thinking – and supports inclusivity within our workforce. By coaching those people joining our company from a traineeship into leadership positions, we can ensure this inclusive culture lives on for the next generation.

All these benefits are only possible if apprenticeships and training schemes are genuine rather than ‘tokenistic’ and offer sustainable pathways to full-time employment.

At EcoWorld London, we are committed to making sure our schemes have long-term impact. We worked closely with Hounslow Council and our programme partner MIT Skills to ensure our pre-employment training programme meets the needs of both the participants and the companies who might eventually be their employers. As a result, 60% of the graduates of our pre-employment training schemes have since secured long-term employment – many on our own projects. The success rate of similar programmes is usually just 5% to 10%.

For developers, supporting skills and employment is a vital part of building relationships with the communities in which they work. At EcoWorld London, we see huge value in investing in the long-term health of our communities: supporting people into jobs, creating healthy spaces and the amenities needed for the area to thrive.

So, this National Apprenticeship Week, it is time to consider: what could offering a traineeship add to your business?

Nivene Powell is head of communities at EcoWorld London