Wrexham Councillors express frustration as apprentices and tradespeople leave for higher-paying private sector jobs
WREXHAM councillors have expressed frustration at apprentices and tradespeople leaving the authority to earn more money in the private sector.
At a meeting of the council’s housing scrutiny committee lead member for housing, Pant and Johnstown Cllr David A Bithell (Ind), spoke of a number of pressures the department is facing from staffing to inflationary costs.
The council has more than 11,000 houses in its stock and is dealing with a backlog of repairs, although the number of empty properties waiting to be repaired is now down to 266 from 560 two years ago.
Cllr Bithell said: “I’m not going to sit here and say it’s perfect in housing with the backlog in repairs, but what I would say is that work is going on behind-the-scenes to address the backlog and the pressures of increased demand.”
He also revealed there were 87 applications for five apprentice positions advertised recently.
Housing officer Lee Roberts said: “We have struggled in the last couple of years to get contractors to work in tenanted properties.
“The cost of materials, labour and inflation – what we were paying three or four years ago to what we’re being now for the same work has gone up by about 20 per cent.”
“We have had trade operatives leave due to cost-of-living, younger trade operatives, who maybe have taken on a mortgage.”
Richard Thomas, programme lead in housing repairs, added: “We’ve got an ageing workforce and this is something we have to address going forward.
“There is a lot of experience there but what we want to do is share that knowledge with apprentices.
“We don’t want to let that information go untapped.”
Both Acrefair North Cllr Paul Blackwell (Lab) and Hermitage Cllr Graham Rogers (Lab) asked questions about apprenticeships, with Cllr Blackwell concerned the council was losing out.
He said: “It used to be a coveted thing for someone leaving school to have an apprenticeship with housing and learn a trade.
“I’m concerned that as soon as they have this apprenticeship we’re spending a lot of money and a lot of time training these people up and then they leave to go to the private sector.
“Can we not lock them into a long-term contract as soon as they start and say you’re with us now for six years or something like that as the private sector is getting these and don’t have to be pay for their training.”
But officers explained it was difficult to prevent apprentices from moving on.
Mr Roberts said: “In terms of tying apprentices down, I don’t think we can do that.
“I see exactly where you’re coming from, some do stay with us but some will go hunting the pound.
“If there’s private contractor, they can get so much extra an hour, and they’re looking to buy a house I think the younger generation, that’s what they will do.”
Chief housing officer Julie Francis added: “We do support apprentices to stay, with regular supervision and mentors.
“When they do leave we can in some instances claim the cost back for the training, we do so regularly on other posts when they leave.
“And we try to work with them really closely to tell them the benefits of working in local government.
“But local government is maybe a different beast to the private sector and there are a lot of other things, other regulations that are placed on our staff – for example working with social tenants if they need to identify safeguarding and it’s not always for everybody.
“We do recognise they are important and want to retain them with the investment that we put in and I just want to reassure members that trainees and apprentices do stay. I was a trainee housing manager and I’ll have been here 40 years in March.
“We’ve taken some more on recently and we’ll try to get them to recognise it’s a great place to work.”
Cllr Bithell also told members that finances were tight unless grant funding is available.
“We’ve got no budget for apprentices in housing but it’s something we wanted to do”, he said.
“Apprentices do cost money because we have to train them, mentor them, support them. My understanding is we have to apply and get funding and grants for apprenticeship schemes.
“We’ve been quite fortunate that we’ve supported five apprentices.”
Cllr Bithell also revealed that unsuccessful applicants are sometimes signposted towards contractors.
By BBC LDRS
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