Retrain to beat the brain drain
As the new Prime Minister and Chancellor plot a new path forward for Britain, the focus on education is welcome, and crucial to the country’s hopes of weathering the economic storm ahead.
A skilled workforce is the key to making a success of every slogan that successive PMs have touted in recent years: Brexit, Build Back Better, Levelling Up, Net Zero and even Liz Truss’s short-lived dash for Growth. . .
As the Chancellor pointed out in his fiscal statement, there are 630,000 economically inactive working age adults in Britain, a sharp increase since the onset of the pandemic.
We must not fall into the trap of focusing on school leavers alone. More must be done, today, to address this enormous headwind to productivity and growth.
At HomeServe we have a privileged insight on skilled trades. We own the largest online platform for tradespeople in the UK: Checkatrade.
We have seen immense demand for home improvement services since the pandemic. But the impact of Brexit, an ageing workforce, and a national apprenticeships system not fit for purpose means that we, like many in our industry, can’t keep up.
At the same time, the jobs Britain needs done are changing. The transition to a cleaner, greener economy requires a 7.3% increase in construction output by 2030 as we retrofit our homes and move to renewable energy sources.
This may not sound like a lot. It is – and means hiring one million more construction sector workers by 2030 and increasing the current rate of new joiners by 57%. We need an army.
We don’t have the 142,000 new electricians, 98,000 new carpenters, or 80,000 plumbers to do standard jobs in the home, let alone the capacity to train the heat pump and solar panel installers of tomorrow.
The CBI has recently called on the Chancellor to allow more overseas workers into Britain by expanding those that qualify for work visas through its Shortage Occupations list.
It’s a good short-term fix. But we need a long-term solution. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. And whatever happened to doing it yourself?
We need to get serious about skills. Investing in education, yes. More vocational training, absolutely. Apprenticeships, I am passionate about them. This is how we’ll solve the skills gap of tomorrow.
But what about now?
The fact is most new tradespeople enter the sector as adults, not apprentices.
Look at the recent headlines. 4,500 jobs gone at Tesco stores, 10,000 job cuts at Amazon, hiring freezes, ONS data shows UK unemployment back on the rise.
Retraining is our greatest opportunity to create the skills we need in the short-term.
And yet no Government has managed to address it credibly.
Age 36, Pete Blunden, qualified as an electrician. He wanted to take his career into his own hands, having been through furlough, then redundancy, and then relentless job applications. Having graduated this summer, he is now a Self-Employed Subcontractor with plans to start his own business, knowing there’ll be work in good times and bad.
Existing retraining options, where they exist, are hard to find or complicated and difficult to fund.
Today, we have brought seven of Britain’s leading construction training providers together in the country’s first private sector response to the skills gap in our sector: Trade Up.
The new scheme will accelerate efforts to retrain Britain’s mature workers with the ambitious commitment to double the current number of skilled trades qualifying through the private sector.
Raising awareness, making funding sources as easily accessible as University loans, and supporting career-switchers into work by matchmaking them with SMEs and helping them start their own businesses, will all contribute to our goal.
Government should embrace this opportunity, get behind schemes like this and show why they offer an equal alternative to university and other career paths.
It’s not rocket science and needn’t cost the earth. There are two steps the Government can take straight away.
First, businesses across the UK have returned over £3 billion in unspent apprenticeship levy funds to Government coffers. We need to make this pot of cash work harder. One option is reallocating it to support lifelong learners in retraining. Second, the Government must accelerate the roll-out of its proposed lifelong loan entitlement due to come into effect in 2025. This will provide individuals with access to government funding to learn, upskill and retrain in later life, but we need it now.
It’s all very well protecting infrastructure projects and much needed new hospitals if you have enough people to build them. Without enough builders and plumbers, turning Britain into the next Silicon Valley will remain a pipe dream.
Richard Harpin, Founder & CEO of HomeServe PLC