Addressing the industry’s skills gap has always been one of the core objectives of Building Our Skills – Making Fenestration, Glass and Glazing a Career of Choice. The campaign acknowledges the role of apprenticeships in helping to realise this objective, and a partnership forged with Glass & Fenestration Training Solutions (GFTS) is having a positive impact ­in this area. GFTS forms part of BOS’s national network of practical training centres and is one of its academy sites.

Nevertheless, Building Our Skills and GFTS recognise that there are many employers who may not feel confident about whether to or how to take on apprentices. To shed some light on the matter and to garner more support for apprenticeship uptake, BOS has undertaken an interview with Samantha Tinker, GFTS’s Director of Business & Quality.

BOS: Why are apprenticeships important?

GFTS: For many employers, taking on apprentices is their only way of bringing new blood into the industry. Many employers recognise that they have an ageing workforce and would like to future-proof their business by bringing in young people. Good succession-planning means recruiting and training up employees. It’s a sensible long-term strategy. For apprentices themselves, the benefits are manifold: they get to earn while they learn; they work to a formalised standard; they work with experienced mentors, drawing down on their vocational knowledge and experience; and they achieve a recognised qualification. This approach is great for those people who do not wish to go down the academic route. It’s a win-win for both employers and staff alike.

BOS: What about funding?

GFTS: The Education & Skills Funding Agency subsidises training costs for apprenticeships through training providers such as GFTS, by up to 100% of the cost for 16-18yr olds and 95% for 19+ age group candidates. There are two routes to payment. Companies with a wage bill in excess of £3m pay into the Apprenticeship Levy to cover the costs of training their apprentices, while smaller employers, not paying the Levy, pay a maximum of 5% contribution and the rest is covered by the government. In some instances, and depending on eligibility, there may also be grants available to employers who take on apprentices in the 16-18yr old age bracket. Many small companies are not aware of this financial support, and they might like to talk to us about it. We also provide support in many other ways to employers who are new to taking apprentices on in their business. For example, we arrange for our Employer Engagement Officer to work with employers directly and make sure everything runs smoothly as we guide companies through the various procedures, explaining and helping to gain access to funding. We deal with a lot of very small companies as well as larger ones, and we find that many businesses are unaware of the government assistance they can call on, the funding they can secure, along with support and options there may be for their existing staff too. It’s our role to help them navigate the various processes easily. They really don’t have to try to tackle everything themselves.

BOS: What does the future hold for apprenticeships in this industry?

GFTS: Currently, there are too few apprenticeship standards available in the fenestration industry. Employers can only choose from Level 2 Fenestration Installation, Level 2 Fenestration Fabrication and Level 3 Curtain Wall Installation. It’s our view, here at GFTS, that we need more apprenticeship standards specific to the different skills sets in this industry. For example, a surveying apprenticeship tailored to the fenestration industry would be a good addition, as would one for glazing and glass processing. There are so many roles that learners can move into. Fabricating and installing are only two aspects of an industry which offers a huge breadth of career paths, and the range of apprenticeship standards should reflect that. The existing apprenticeship standards are currently under review too, and hopefully they will be adapted to encourage more uptake. The industry as a whole and employers in the glass processing and glazing sectors, are urgently needed to support the trailblazer groups, designing a broader range of standards that are more suitable for a greater number of employers and learners.

BOS: What is your final message for employers?

GFTS: Be confident. Don’t feel that taking on an apprentice is an onerous task. We’re here to guide employers all the way. They can lean on us for support and thereby do their bit to help tackle the skills gap whilst at the same time future-proofing their business. In addition, if employers or employees would like to talk to us about practical training in order to gain other valuable fenestration-specific qualifications they are of course welcome to do so. We are very strong supporters of qualifications as a means of helping to drive up standards in the industry and ensuring that businesses can offer defined career paths. All practical training content is formally GQA accredited, giving learners a skills card to carry with them to show their achievements and where needed, CSCS cards too for commercial sites.

More information on Building Our Skills – Making Fenestration, Glass and Glazing a Career of Choice – is available at www.buildingourskills.co.uk

Find out more about GFTS at https://www.gftsltd.co.uk/