Ian Mearns, the Labour candidate for Gateshead, took time out of his campaigning this week to visit Gateshead College’s Construction Academy and talk to CAN’s Ken Parkin and curriculum operations manager for construction at the college, Graham Cunningham, about the courses on offer there for the construction trades.

With plans recently unveiled for a £90m transformation of Gateshead High Street as part of a much larger £1.5billion investment in Gateshead signalling a vast amount of potential construction work, CAN is keen to work with Gateshead College to help secure work experience opportunities for full-time apprentices particularly when the new T-level course requirements come into force, which require each apprentice to secure 45 days of on-site experience per annum.

While the college currently has apprentices gaining valuable work experience at the moment this is an area where big improvements could be made and getting contractors to provide work experience is proving quite challenging for Gateshead College.

Commenting on the potential role for CAN, Ken said: “Following a recent meeting with Gateshead Council when we discussed intelligent procurement and the need for more of a level playing field for regional SME contractors, it was clear that the Council is prepared to re-think some of its procurement measures to provide more tender opportunities for local companies whenever possible. We hope that the announcement of this massive regeneration programme will provide some of these opportunities.

“On that basis, we feel we could play a key role, linking the Council with the College’s need through CAN’s network of regional contractors, and hopefully we can assist in this vitally important part of apprenticeship delivery- the provision of real hands-on experience.

“I would like to thank Mr Mearns on behalf of CAN for sparing us some time out of his hectic schedule to come and hear our views.  The fact that he is prepared to help us is even better.”

As the local MP for many years, Mr Mearns is fully aware of the need for more training and apprenticeships within the construction sector.  His role, which he has held on the Education Select Committee for nine years means he is in a strong position to raise awareness about key issues.  He said:

“Part of the problem is the fragmentation of the industry these days with a range of sub-contractors and the use of agency tradespeople rather than a directly employed labour force. It is not good practice when 16-year-olds are pushed towards a more academic route when they are not suited to it and when the construction sector is crying out for skilled tradespeople.

“It is great news that Gateshead College currently has 205 apprentices in training and if I get re-elected, I hope to work with the local authority and give CAN my full support to ensure there is a pipeline of work coming through for them to get the right experience.

“We are still just scratching the surface of what the industry needs when building the local talent base.  One thing we are very good at in the region – one of our most successful exports, is people – and unfortunately, there is still a lot of skilled tradespeople making the journey south to work out of the region on contracts every week.

“It is very honourable the way CAN is trying to build skills in the area, and I will do my best to help in whatever way I can to get work experience opportunities for these trainees.  I hope that CAN will keep me in the loop about what is happening.”