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Why Collaboration is Key to Solving the UK’s Technical Skills Gap

ABM UK managing director, John McPherson, explains how collaboration can plug a widely reported technical skills gap in the UK.

The events of the past 18 months have changed many things, but one which remains is the acute skills gap which the facilities management industry faces. There is no denying that the sector’s technical workforce is approaching retirement while the influx of new talent cannot fill the void.

Our industry is not alone in this challenge, with a number of elements contributing to the issue. Most pertinent in my mind is awareness of the opportunities available and misperceptions about the industry and apprenticeships. People either don’t know about the opportunities technical roles can offer, or they think it’s about oily rags and no prospects. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Just four years ago, independent research commissioned by ABM showed that over a third of parents didn’t know what an apprenticeship was, and a further third saw apprenticeships as a last resort for young people who fail exams.  Since then, we have seen a number of positive steps being taken by government which have increased the profile of apprenticeships and technical roles. The Lifetime Skills Guarantee and the Apprenticeship Levy have thrown a spotlight on to the discussion, although it has been long debated as to whether these initiatives can remedy the real cause of our woes. Regardless of personal opinion, the fact remains that we all recognise a problem. So, what are we, the industry, doing about it?

We need to shout about the opportunities in the profession, such as travel and earning potential,

As a sector we cannot expect this to change if we, the individual businesses, do nothing to help. We need to shout about the opportunities in the profession, such as travel and earning potential, and the opportunity for fast-track progression to managerial roles.

One of our team members illustrates this last point perfectly. Sam Tanti joined us as an apprentice at the age of 16 and in just 10 years became a Contracts Manager, working directly with senior and executive leaders and managing a diverse portfolio of high-profile contracts which include commercial buildings, hotels, museums and banks. People like Sam begin earning between £26,000 and £30,000 just a year after qualifying – usually before they’re 20 years old – and they often have no debt.

Business–run apprenticeship schemes are crucial to filling that skills gap. Internally, ABM currently has 89 apprentices across 34 level two to seven courses available across the UK, and over 60 additional applications in process. We understand how important it is to continually grow these numbers to further improve skills and talent within the organisation.

There is no denying that COVID-19 delayed progress in tackling this issue including our ability to spend Apprenticeship Levy funds to the fullest extent. To ensure that investment still works hard for the industry, ABM is working with the London Progression Collaboration, pledging £192,000 of unused funds to enable small and medium sized businesses and social enterprises to reskill low paid Londoners.  The partnership will see the creation of level two to four apprenticeships which will build skills where there is a skills shortage.

But will all of this good work really enforce change when 68% of young people don’t know what an apprenticeship is? As an organisation we believe that it’s up to businesses to roll up their sleeves to change the misperceptions and awareness issues which surround the route into our technical businesses. This is why we launched the Junior Engineering Engagement Programme (J.E.E.P) in 2017, and why we are over the moon to have just welcomed our fourth cohort of students after a short hiatus caused by the pandemic.

Supported by independent education charity The Talent Foundry, the J.E.E.P. introduces year seven students, aged between 11 and 12, to the world of engineering and FM, bringing apprenticeships to their attention as a valid path to success before they choose their GCSE subjects.

The programme has had over 450 graduates from 23 schools since 2017 and our digital teacher pack which allows schools to self-deliver our programme has been downloaded by over 1,000 schools.

The course is evaluated annually with the J.E.E.P.’s latest results showing a 20% increase in student understanding of apprenticeships and a 19% increase in young people seeing apprenticeships as something exciting.

These are the changes we need to be making on a much bigger scale. We would love to see our peers working with us on expanding our reach or creating their own initiatives which will ultimately benefit the industry as a whole; not only ensuring the industry’s commercial success in the future, but also providing fulfilling careers for young people from all walks of life.

For more information on the programme, visit www.jeep-abm.org.

CAMFIL HVAC Filtration Solutions

John McPherson

John McPherson is the managing director of ABM Industries Inc business, ABM UK.

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