Why is there a skilled trade shortage?

By Trade Up Admin on 25th November 2022

Many will already know the answer to this question. Or, at least, have some idea why so many businesses are crying out for skilled tradespeople. Recent times have seen the UK enjoy a home improvements boom, while pressing Government targets have ramped up the need to ‘get Britain building’.

Yet despite the vastness of the opportunities on the table, there is a perception problem around becoming a tradesperson. Research from Stanley Black and Decker, for example, shows only 16% of students would consider working in a skilled Trade despite seeing it as a good career option. That stat is troubling enough, but it’s only one part of a far more complex picture.

Take education. Apprenticeships are a valuable and effective pathway for getting people into trade and construction careers, but they are generally aimed at those who have just left school. This reduces the number of people they can reach and therefore the impact they can have on the wider issue.

This is partly why Trade-Up was established. Adult learners and career switchers are an untapped resource and key to meeting current shortfalls in the UK labour market, yet the retraining opportunities for this group are limited. And we can benefit from the wider experiences, skills and knowledge they have gained from being an existing member of the workforce.

Practical barriers often make it difficult for those who already have a career. Access to high-quality training is important, but career changing entrants usually need some financial support to make the switch possible. According to HomeServe Foundation’s UK Domestic Skills Index, February 2022, an additional 13,000 are needed each year to close the skills gap in the home improvements and repairs sector. How can the industry expect to find an extra 13,000 people each year if the routes into employment are hard to navigate or, worse still, simply too expensive for many to consider? This question has been left unanswered for too long.

Politics also muddies the water. Personal opinions aside, it’s difficult to overlook the effects of Brexit on the available workforce and how it’s driven down the numbers working in construction or a trade. More than 240,000 people left the industry between the first quarters of 2019 and 2022. The number of self-employed workers also fell by 19% across the same period – down from 990,000 to 799,000.

It’s unfair to pin this all on the end of free movement but it’s clearly a major factor, and only made worse by an ageing workforce. According to the Office of National Statistics, roughly one in five UK-born construction workers were over 55 in 2011. Today, that same group will now have reached retirement age. This combined with an ageing UK population more generally is making it harder for businesses to take on new staff – especially when construction and trade roles are often physical.

The situation is challenging – not least because negative stereotypes of people working in a trade still persist – but there is cause for optimism. Consumer spending in the home improvement market has boomed in recent years and government housing targets will continue to drive demand for skilled workers, even with economic uncertainty lurking. While themselves contributors to the skills gap, these points also offer good reason for people to switch careers. Trade-Up exists to make things easier for those taking that next step.