SHETLAND’S construction industry is putting out a plea for new blood to reinvigorate the sector after witnessing a steep fall in the number of apprentices over the past seven years.
While the number of young Shetlanders taking up some form of vocational training more than doubled in the seven years until 2013, fewer and fewer are taking up building trades.
A meeting on Tuesday afternoon attended by construction firms, Skills Development Scotland, Highland and Islands Enterprise and Shetland College heard that only two people had applied to start building apprenticeships this year, compared to 33 in 2008.
However the number of overall apprenticeships grew from 56 in 2006 to 123 seven years later.
Tavish Scott MSP, who attended the meeting, said that there were 17 vacancies for building apprenticeships right now in Shetland, with more in the pipeline over the next few years.
The growing range of vocational courses available in Shetland, especially in the oil and gas industry and the NAFC Marine Centre’s cadet programme, was one reason behind the crisis in local construction.
Scott also blamed the Scottish government’s Curriculum for Excellence for encouraging young people to stay on at school until they were 18, rather than leaving early to take up a trade.
“The government needs to reconsider its approach to staying on at school until 18. We should be quite open about getting people into vocational courses at a much earlier stage,” he said.
Robert Anderson of the Shetland Building and Allied Trades Association said the industry was to re-introduce taster sessions for secondary pupils in S2 in a bid to raise the profile of career opportunities in construction.
The industry further hopes to be able to train up young ‘construction ambassadors’ to get the message out to youngsters.
Anderson also voiced concern that should not enough new apprentices come forward Shetland College might not be able to continue offering vocational courses for building trade.
“The young people are the future of our industry. We are going to have a committee meeting soon to see what measures to implement first,” Anderson said.
Meanwhile the new Anderson High School construction project will require local firms to take on a large number of building apprentices, so the opportunities over the next few years are only going to increase.