Construction needs 1 million new recruits to keep up with demand, report finds

Credit: AdobeStock/Monkey Business
Credit: AdobeStock/Monkey Business

UK construction needs almost one million new recruits in trades over the next decade just to keep up with demand in a sector, which already faced record-high vacancies in 2022, creating a ‘perfect storm’, a report from Checkatrade has found.

The UK Trade Skills Index 2023, commissioned by Checkatrade and undertaken by Captial Economics, has highlighted an ‘alarming’ skills gap engulfing the construction sector over the coming 10 years, with a drastic need for new recruits in trades and construction by 2032, particularly in plumbing, bricklaying, carpentry and electrical.

Of the 937,000 tradespeople needed to meet demand within the next decade, it said 244,000 must be qualified apprentices in order to prevent the skills gaps worsening, it now being exacerbated by an ageing workforce, an exodus of EU workers post-Brexit, and the cost-of-living crisis.

The report’s findings have been described by Richard Harpin, founder of HomeServe, which acquired Checkatrade in 2017, as both “urgent and alarming”.

Together, Richard and Checkatrade are spearheading a series of new projects aiming to tackle the challenge, focused on school leavers and young people aged under 25. This month they will launch their Get In campaign to attract thousands more young people aged 16 to 25 into trades careers through apprenticeships.

Richard said: “The figures revealed today in our UK Trade Skills Index 2023 report should come as a wakeup call to everyone involved in the trade and construction industry.

“Although we expect the economy to continue to be squeezed in 2023, 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.

“Let us be in no doubt: the sector faces urgent and concerning challenges now and over the next decade. It’s incumbent on both businesses and government to come together and act before it’s too late.”

The report also suggested the skills gap could lead to a further blow to the government, which is expected to miss its housebuilding target of 300,000 new homes each year.

The UK has seen a sharp rise in skills shortages across construction trades – from 29% at the start of 2021 to 55% at the end of the year 2021 – and these shortages persisted through 2022.

Additionally, it showed that despite an anticipated short-term fall in construction output, the UK must ramp up the number of completed construction apprentices to avoid the skills gap worsening – an increase of around 34% above the current levels.

Melanie Waters, former CEO of Help For Heroes who has been appointed to oversee the Get In campaign, said: “This is an urgent problem, but there is a solution. We must do everything we can now to encourage younger generations to consider a career in the trades.

“It’s important we recognise that apprentices in particular are going to be crucial to the future of the industry in helping bridge that divide. 

“Expect our new campaign to make waves in terms of tackling this challenge, and we’re looking forward to working with the industry, government, and regional decision makers to take action and inspire a new generation of tradespeople into our industry.”

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