A Suffolk college has called out to construction firms looking for apprentices to think of them first as they have lots of young people training and looking for a job in the building sector.

West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds has said it hopes businesses tell them first about apprentices instead of going through the old "word of mouth" system as the construction industry continues to face issues with recruitment in the county.

Phil Stittle, executive director of business development at West Suffolk College, said they always get hundreds of applications if they just post one job.

Mr Stittle added that he thinks firms should not rely on "word of mouth" but come to the college instead.

"They would find a lot more people from us," he said. "We have no issue finding interested apprentices."

He added: "We have 337 apprentices in the construction industry so we certainly feel we're bucking the trend.

"We had had a major increase in interest and more wanting to break into this as a career.

"There is a real demand."

He said a lot of apprentices who get qualified in skilled jobs like bricklaying and plumbing also realise that it is a high-paid job with great rewards.

One of Flagship Home's apprentices, Rees Boddy, an 18-year-old at West Suffolk College said he is already thinking of how to buy his first home.

He said he already has a job offer and really likes that these skills will help him "work on my own house in the future".

"It's really good and I'm getting life experience," he said. "It's not just like you're a student and more a friendship with co-workers.

"It's so different from school."

Liam Ludlam, another apprentice at Flagship at the same college, thinks "it's the best thing".

He found being at school difficult and really enjoys the work he is doing now.

"You never get bored," the 18-year-old said. "It's a multi-trade, doing plumbing and other work. All in one apprenticeship.

"You're also part of a good team."

He hopes to become a voids manager, turning properties that have been vacant into high-quality homes, in the future.

Claire Casbolt, the head of business development at Suffolk New College and Suffolk Rural, said apprenticeship numbers have been "very high" the last few years and in August 2021 took 170 apprentices across their construction portfolio.

She added: “We recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Sizewell C to support their construction needs and we work closely with a range of businesses across the region - and collectively we are all working hard to try and solve current and future recruitment shortfalls.

“As to the reason as to why there are skills shortfalls, it’s difficult to attribute this to one single thing.

"It’s not a new issue, but I think that if students can get introduced to the variety of career opportunities in construction at a younger age, then this can only help the industry continue to bounce back even stronger that it currently is."

Simon Girling, the director of SEH French, an Ipswich-based firm operating across East Anglia, where apprentices make up 10% of the workforce said young people are key to solving the skills gap.

He added: “Bringing in new people into any industry is beneficial, young people bring fresh ideas. They [apprentices] live, develop and grow with us as people and in their trade or profession.

“Apprentices help support our senior staff which in turn helps us operate and have better capabilities for meeting our client’s requirements and our own workloads.

“Their on-the-job training teaches them how to work to our high standards and how to work as a team.

"It’s really important to be able to train them to how we want them to work and grow into a professional person.”

SEH French said it's keen to create opportunities for more young people across the region, and people are advised to check their careers page for future vacancies.