Skilled tradespeople

“We have come off a cliff edge’’, proclaims Jerry Swain, the national officer for construction at Unite the Union. He is talking about the UK’s current skills shortage, an issue which has been brewing for at least as long as the last decade, and intensified by the recent impacts of Brexit and Covid. With Boris Johnson’s dictum that we must ‘build back better’ ringing across media channels, industry leaders are beginning to question whether this ambition will be possible without a surge in new skilled tradespeople. 

“The industry has relied on foreign labour”, Swain continues. “It takes at least two years to make a decent bricklayer or carpenter. So now there is a limited pool to draw from”. It is an issue which has plagued industry leaders for over five years now – with a considerable dependence on EU workers making up the construction industry taskforce, what will happen when they eventually return to the EU? Without relaxing migrant visas to make the employment process more viable, it looks as though we have to depend upon homegrown skilled tradespeople. But is there enough being done to encourage this?

Well, considering the significant wage rise seen all across the board for tradespeople, it’s surprising that more people haven’t jumped on the bandwagon, though many have taken up the mantle and upskilled during the pandemic. Wages are skyrocketing for tradespeople. As an example, the Financial Times reported that the typical bricklayer is raking in around £220 per day, and often more. Before the pandemic, this figure was around £150-180, and this considerable growth is true of all trades across the board. Tradespeople are in such demand that they are able to command their salaries to an unprecedented level. Things have never looked more promising for those with the right skills – so why aren’t more people joining the workforce? 

Building companies are similarly baffled at the lack of available skilled tradespeople. A recent survey conducted by the Federation of Master Builders found that ‘more than half of its members were struggling to find the workers they need. The Financial Times also reported the case of Phil Wish, a builder and architect from Brighton, whose construction project was at serious risk of facing a long delay had he not had to muck in with the work himself, even convincing family members to help him out in order to get the job done. 


‘I couldn’t find an electrician for love nor money’, he says. The strain on the construction industry is taking its toll on smaller domestic projects, like Phil’s, as well as larger scale nationwide projects. All come under the umbrella of the Prime Minister’s promise to ‘build back better’, and Phil’s experience has left him less than hopeful: ‘you can’t build back better without enough builders’. 


Phil offers his opinion as to why more people aren’t joining the ranks of thriving tradespeople, putting it down to an “ingrained snobbery towards the trades”. He suggests that the perception of the trade industry is still serving as a huge obstacle to attracting bigger numbers of young skilled workers, despite attempts to change the image of construction. Trade jobs are, in Phil’s opinion, “seen as a last resort for kids who’ve failed to get into university". The enormous value, dignity and high-skilled nature of these jobs is not being sold to the masses, and it is of great importance that this message is communicated loud, clear – and quickly.

‘Build back better’ is beginning to absorb an essence of irony about it, as Boris Johnson’s promise is clearly under-delivering. Those within the trade industry are beginning to see it as something of a joke, as they continue to struggle with a dramatically limited workforce; projects are facing delays, and on top of this, material shortages are proving difficult to overcome. 

A survey by Homebuilders Federation found the following concerning statistics, to give a stark indication of just how much work there is to be done. For every 10,000 new houses built, 30,000 new recruits are needed; this includes 2,500 bricklayers, 1,000 carpenters, and 300 electricians. Considering that the UK Government has aimed for 300,000 new houses to be built every year, there is clearly a gargantuan task ahead of us.

But what is the solution? Further education colleges have been seen to be failing in their attempts to provide the country with the next generation of tradespeople. Jenny Herdman, director of the home building skills partnership at the Homebuilders Federation, has noted how potential young tradespeople are slipping through the cracks of these institutions, and suggests that as many as 60-70,000 young people who ‘could come into construction every year’ do not end up doing so. And even if those people are signing up for apprenticeships, this option takes too long to provide the UK with a supply of tradespeople in the necessary time.

Private training colleges such as Access Training are the way forward. Offering direct, dynamic training with the sole intention of setting you up for business, teaching you the skills you need, perfecting your craft and getting you onsite. It just takes one call for you to be a part of something bigger – a valued member of the trade industry. 

Learn your trade. Get qualified. Make it happen.

Climate emergency

With the Cop26 Climate Meeting having come to an end in Glasgow, the pressing nature of the Climate Emergency is on everyone’s mind. Sustainable and environmentally conscious practices are of obvious importance and concern to the construction industry, and much is being done to advance the efficiency and carbon neutrality of building methods. But engagement with the ongoing crisis could also transform the construction industry in ways than one – it could help to close the skills gap.

One glaring obstacle faced by recruitment experts in the construction industry is the lack of people, specifically in the younger generation, training to become skilled tradespeople. Meanwhile, the current workforce is getting older, and EU workers are leaving the UK following the impacts of Brexit. At a time when the UK construction industry needs to be recruiting workers in their tens of thousands, the opposite trends are all too clear to see. Fewer young people are being drawn to the prospect of a career in construction than previous generations, and as a result, the future success of important infrastructure projects – like the promise of building an extra 300,000 houses per year, for example – hangs in the balance.

But one suggested approach towards attracting the next generation has been to engage more actively, more overtly, and with more urgency, to the ongoing Climate Emergency. Raj Somal, Director of Dice, a civil and structural engineering consultancy, has recently published an article addressing the ‘sustainable values’ shared by the younger ‘Gen-Z’ demographic, and suggests that ‘aligning’ with these values and ‘promoting an inclusive culture’ could dramatically aid attempts to close the skills gap, and attract future generations towards working in construction. At the same time, the industry could finally rid itself of outdated and inaccurate preconceptions which many have seen as the reason for a drop off in younger trainees. 

A recent report has found that 62% of ‘Gen-Z’ are ‘aware and engaged with climate emergency issues’, but only ⅓ members of that generation see the construction industry as a place where they can meaningfully tackle these issues. It is surely a wise call, then, to ensure that the construction industry is seen to be fully addressing climate issues, not only to close the skills gap, but to ensure better environmental practice for its own sake, and go some way in realising net-zero targets by 2050.

Technology is key to this change, Somal writes. Perceptions of the industry are already changing with the introduction of advanced modern technologies, particularly in building methods and practices. REVIT, for example, is a tool used by Dice to generate 3D models of buildings, and technical mark-ups are increasingly used on iPads and other devices in order to ensure paperless practice. Using devices in the workplace has been viewed as a way to cater for a generation of highly technologically-literate individuals, who have essentially grown up using devices such as these.

But this development is not far enough by any means, and this much is acknowledged. Not only should building methods be environmentally conscious, but the projects themselves should adopt the same ambitions of carbon neutrality, especially considering that the built environment contributes towards 40% of the UK’s carbon footprint. It is not hard to understand why environmentally conscious, concerned young people are not feeling as comfortable as would be desired in pursuing careers within the construction industry – opportunities to avert climate disaster may not yet seem plentiful in the sector.

But the construction industry is changing, and there is much evidence of this. Modern methods of construction (MMC) are being constantly promoted by industry leaders, and more sustainable practices are seen more and more as a ‘win-win’ for businesses and developers – they save time and money for both parties. Businesses increasingly have an incentive to adopt the most environmentally friendly methods. And this is crucial, as noted above, not only to alleviate the concerns of the younger generation but to address the environmental issues which concern everybody on the planet. 

If the construction industry can demonstrate its intentions to make a meaningful impact on issues surrounding climate, we could see a complete transformation in the number of young people who see the industry as a place of opportunity, to manifest environmental concerns and use those concerns to instigate change. The construction industry can place itself at the forefront of technological developments which aid our common progress towards net-zero targets. 

After the momentous fortnight witnessed at Cop26 in Glasgow, and amid concerning reports that the planet is heating even beyond worst fears, it is more imperative than ever that change is enacted on the ground – that every new build, every piece of maintenance, every individual tradesperson, enacts the positive environmentally-conscious change that is needed. With everyone on board, who knows what the construction industry can achieve. 

If you want to be a part of the changing face of the construction industry, there is no need to wait, and no time to lose. Become a skilled tradesperson today to join a workforce growing in environmental awareness. Use construction to create your meaningful impact. 


Learn your trade. Get qualified. Make it happen.

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