‘We cannot “build back better” without the builders’ –– Oscar Watkins, head of IPPR construction sector.
Since 2010, 1.8 million houses have been built in England alone. In December of last year, we saw a 37-year high in the number of houses built in a single year: 243,770. This was the seventh consecutive year in which the number of houses built has risen.
Now consider how this immense feat could have been possible without the construction workers who built these houses? And with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s stated ambition to ‘build back better’ in the coming years, it’s looking likely to be a persistently busy time for construction workers.
There’s no question about how important the services of tradespeople are to daily life, and this in itself will ensure that careers in trades will continue being busy. But this high demand is undoubtedly increased by the skills gap that the UK has faced for a decade or more. In 2015, one quarter of all construction job vacancies was a result of the current skills crisis. By 2018, the percentage of skills-gap vacancies had risen to 43%. And this worsening problem is caused by one simple fact: there are more jobs available in trades than there are skilled workers to fill them. And so the demand for tradespeople is especially high.
This skills shortage is down to a number of reasons. Firstly, the workforce is ageing. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) estimated that 750,000 construction workers will either retire, or have reached retirement age, within the next fifteen years. Brexit has also meant that hiring EU-born workers (who made up a big portion of the UK construction workforce) is more complicated and expensive for contractors than hiring UK-born workers. The number of EU workers halved in two years, from 115,000 to 53,000 between 2018-2020. On top of this, apprenticeship numbers are inefficient and in decline, with a 30% reduction across Britain.
These contributing factors cause concern to British industry leaders. It means that certain important quotas might fail to be met; the aim to achieve a zero-carbon economy by 2050, for instance, is highly dependent on the next generation of workers in the construction sector.
But it’s a good thing for those either already in the industry, or for those looking to get started. The opportunities for a long-term career are practically endless. The demand for most trades is consistently high. Work is well-paid and plentiful.
A survey conducted by Rated People and Vanorama, asked 1000 people from around the UK about their demand for tradespeople during 2020. It turns out that it was pretty high, with 64% of those asked saying that they’d called out a tradesperson at least once; despite lockdowns and a pandemic, 68% of those surveyed said that they were comfortable with tradespeople in their homes.
The survey also gave an insight into how busy life might be for tradespeople for the foreseeable future. Here are just a few statistics proving how integral construction work was to people during 2020:
- Plumbers topped the bill, as they proved to be the most in-demand tradespeople of 2020, with 23% of those surveyed saying that it was a plumber they called out.
- The average wage for plumbers has risen considerably in a year, from £31,370 in 2019, to £32,356 – just shy of a £1,000 increase.
- Electricians were the second highest demand trade of 2020, with 11% of the UK’s adult population having called one out at least once.
- Projected growth of job vacancies by 8% between 2019-2029. This is higher than the average growth for all occupations.
- Electricians just about earn the highest average salary out of all the trades, with £33,495. This is an increase on 2019’s average of £33,176, and suggests a growing trend as the years move ahead.
- Estimates suggest that an extra 15,000 electricians are needed across the UK in order to fill the skills gap. One of those could be you.
Of course, it wasn’t plumbers and electricians alone who were reaping the rewards. Carpenters and joiners are also in extremely high demand, with around 60% of construction companies noting the current shortage of workers to hire. In 2016, the employment rate for carpenters was predicted to grow by 8% over the next ten years, and the current widening of the skills gap is only increasing this likelihood. In short, the trades industry in general is experiencing a massive shortage of workers, and this is generating high demand for skilled workers.
‘We’ve seen a natural increase of 7% more jobs being posted for tradespeople compared to last year, so there has definitely been a rise in demand for their services, despite what you might expect with a pandemic. The trade industry has fortunately been able to keep operating in line with new health and safety requirements to be on hand to help people get more enjoyment from their homes and save the day in any home emergencies’ – Adrienne Minster, Rated People CEO
And high demand means plenty of well-paid work. Not only are average salaries rising, but customers are still keen to spend money on tradespeople. The survey above also tells us something about the spending trends witnessed throughout 2020, and reveals that people are not afraid to spend money on tradespeople. One in five people spent over £1,000 on tradespeople during 2020, either for kitchen, bathroom or garden work alone. One in ten spent over £5,000 during the year. Interestingly, most of those surveyed spent under £100, suggesting that it’s the minor but crucial smaller jobs keeping tradespeople busy and earning over an exceptionally difficult year.
Even better news for tradespeople is that customers base their decisions on who to book primarily on the quality of the work, rather than how much it costs. Only 12% chose a tradesperson based on how much they charge, with 70% more likely to take notice of a good reputation. That means, if you’re good at what you do, and you’re working as your own boss, you can charge what your quality work deserves.
If this isn’t proof enough that tradespeople have been in high demand, we can see it from the customers themselves: 29% of those surveyed said that they’d had to wait longer than usual to book a tradesperson, due to their busy schedules. Considering lockdowns and stories of struggling during the pandemic, you would have thought the opposite to be true. But no, customers are virtually queuing up to pay tradespeople to fix their home issues – often problems that they’ve caused themselves, as 20% admitted to having caused the problems themselves, as a result of spending too much time at home over lockdown!
If there’s one thing that the pandemic has reminded us of, it’s that we will never stop needing tradespeople. The survey conducted Plumbers, electricians, gas engineers, carpenters, bricklayers, plasterers – you name it. Pandemic or not, boilers will break, appliances will need servicing and maintenance. Who else could fit our bathrooms and kitchens? Who else could ensure our central heating didn’t conk out throughout the winter? The answer is, well, nobody.
Take this chance to join an industry of opportunity. The timing couldn’t be better.
Learn your trade. Get qualified. Make it happen.