Is now the best time to work in trades? Looking at the current trade skills shortage across the UK

4 mins

The UK is currently facing a pressing challenge: the shortage of trade skills. In an era of globalisation and evolving job preferences, coupled with the impact of Brexit, the shortage of qualified professionals in the trades has reached a critical crossroad.

Skilled tradespeople, from electricians to carpenters and plumbers, have long been the foundation of the country's infrastructure. However, we find ourselves at a turning point where the demand for trade skills is soaring while the supply struggles to keep up.

Here, we explore the current skills shortage, delve into the reasons behind the decline and offer insights on how to overcome it. 

The skills shortage crisis

According to About Apprenticeships, the country requires almost 940,000 new recruits in trades and construction over the next 10 years, with nearly 250,000 qualified apprentices needed to avoid the skills gap worsening. This is an increase of 34% above the current levels. 

The skills gap is being exacerbated by an ageing workforce – with a third expected to retire in the next decade – as well as other factors, including: 

  • A migrating workforce: Skilled brits are increasingly seeking opportunities overseas, lured by competitive salaries and favourable working conditions. 
     There has been a huge increase in online searches for trade jobs in different countries, with people favouring Australia and Saudi Arabia, amongst others. 
  • Young people opting for alternative career paths: One of the most pressing issues is the dwindling number of young people pursuing careers in the trades and taking on apprenticeships. Many are opting for university degrees instead, creating a gap in the pipeline of new talent entering the industry. 
    An added challenge is the lack of promotion within the education system of apprenticeships, encouraging young people to enrol on trades courses. Ensuring that young people understand the opportunities and prospects is crucial to success within the industry. 
  • Brexit: The aftermath of Brexit has introduced complexities in the immigration landscape, making it a challenge for foreign tradespeople to work in the UK which has limited the talent pool.  

Overcoming the skills shortage

Recognising and addressing the skills shortage is vital for the UK’s continued growth and development. However, despite posing significant challenges, it also presents a unique opportunity for those considering a career in trades for several reasons: 

  • High demand: The demand for skilled tradespeople in the UK is soaring. From infrastructure projects to home renovations, the need for qualified professionals is constant and widespread.
  • Job security: Skilled trades are considered recession-resistant, even during economic downturns. With the skills shortage persisting, job security for tradespeople is robust. Skilled professionals are less likely to face unemployment with the consistent need for maintenance, repairs, and construction. 
  • Competitive wages: Tradespeople often enjoy competitive wages and opportunities for career progression, moving into supervisory or management roles. As the shortage continues, employers are willing to offer attractive compensation packages and self-employment is an alternative option. 
  • Independence: As well as remuneration packages, there is also the opportunity for self-employment or freelance work. This gives people working in this industry the chance to take control of their career.
  • Continuous learning: The trades are evolving with technological advancements and new materials. This means there are ample opportunities for continuous learning and skill enhancement; for example, electricians installing electric car charging points, as the UK tries to reduce its carbon footprint and promote sustainability. 
  • Fulfilling work: Usually, some of this work contributes to the maintenance of communities which can be hugely rewarding – whether this is a repaired system or an improved living space. 

Despite now being a good time to get into trades, a combination of strategies and efforts are required from various establishments and authorities. There are approaches that can be utilised to address and mitigate the shortage, including: promotion of vocational education, supporting apprenticeship programmes, investing in technology, and encouraging industry collaboration.  

These approaches all require a collective understanding and commitment from schools, local authorities, investors and communities alike, in order to break down barriers to access in the trade industry and inspire a new generation of young people. 

By implementing these, the UK can work towards alleviating the skills shortage in the trades industry, ensuring that it remains sustainable and responsive to construction needs. Collaboration between government, industry leaders, and recruitment agencies is essential to create an effective solution. 

However, without these approaches, we are still presented with a unique and compelling opportunity for those considering a career in this field. Whether you're a young person exploring your options or someone looking for a career change, the trades offer job security, competitive wages, and a chance to contribute to essential industries.

Now might just be the best time to embark on a fulfilling journey in the trades, helping to shape the future of the UK's infrastructure and construction landscape.