The UK needs almost a million new plumbers, bricklayers and other trades over the next decade just to keep pace with demand, an industry report has claimed.
The UK Trade Skills Index, conducted by Capital Economics on behalf of Checkatrade, the directory of tradespeople, said that the nation was facing an “urgent and alarming” shortage of skilled labourers. If nothing is done, the report estimates that the skills gap in the construction and repairs industry will reach 937,000 by 2032.
The issue has been exacerbated by the post-Brexit exodus of European workers and an ageing workforce, one third of whom are over 50 and will likely retire within the next ten years.
Richard Harpin, chief executive of Homeserve, which owns Checkatrade, said that the figures highlighted in the report should serve as a “wake-up call to everyone involved in the trade and construction industry”.
He added: “The construction sector is finding itself in an increasingly alarming situation caused by Brexit, an ageing workforce and the cost of living crisis. Combined, this is creating a perfect storm in the industry and causing a widening skills gap, which we must address.”
The shortage of workers has contributed to the UK consistently missing government housebuilding targets, Capital Economics claimed, as well as to higher building and repair costs for homeowners. It added that if the UK was serious about its ambition to achieve net zero by 2050, it would need more skilled construction workers. Having enough plumbers who can install heat pumps will be especially important in this regard.
As well as plumbers and bricklayers, the report said that there was a particular lack of carpenters and electricians across the country. Never before, it added, has there been so many vacancies in the trades. Of the 937,000 new recruits needed to meet demand over the coming decade, the UK Trade Skills Index estimates that almost a quarter of a million must be qualified apprentices to stop the skills gap from worsening.
An average of 24,400 new construction apprentices are required each year, which is a third more than the UK has produced in each of the past five years, Capital Economics calculated.
The number of people undertaking construction apprenticeships has fallen by an average of 11 per cent every year since 2017, while the proportion of those who start but do not finish their course has risen.
“We must do everything we can now to encourage younger generations to consider a career in the trades,” said Melanie Waters, who is overseeing Checkatrade’s upcoming “Get In” campaign to encourage more young people to begin construction apprenticeships.