Features - Employment

UK’s Post-Pandemic Recovery Under Threat by Construction Skills Drain

I’m Helen Booth, Director of the HomeServe Foundation, the registered charity of HomeServe plc, and we’re calling on more to be done to help the UK recover from Covid, which is under threat from a construction skills drain.

We’re facing a perfect storm in UK construction that, without action, threatens to derail the country’s post-pandemic recovery, as well as UK house building targets and bold Government Net Zero pledges.

Demand in construction and for home improvements is soaring; but there is a skills void right across the construction sector – which could be exacerbated if we don’t do something quickly – as well as a shortage of essential building materials.

HomeServe CEO Richard Harpin has recently called for ministers to expand the ‘shortage occupation list’, which sets out the jobs where there are not enough workers, so it includes construction and trades jobs. He’s absolutely right.

Put simply, it’s impossible to ‘Build Back Better’, when there are no builders to do the work. And you can add plumbers, ‘green collar’ workers, electricians, joiners and a whole raft of other construction jobs to that list too.

What do we know?

The findings of our UK Domestic Trades Skills Index shows an expected gap of around 1.25million construction jobs, and a projected shortfall of 305,000 in sector apprenticeships, between now and 2030.

With an exodus of skilled workers following Brexit and more than 800,000 people – a fifth of the current construction workforce – likely to retire, leave the construction sector or change occupations over the next decade, the problem is expected to continue to grow.

Without plugging these gaps over the next decade, we can all expect to see home repair bills and house prices rocket. It’s simple economics. Demand is outstripping supply right now, and we expect that continue for the next decade.

What is the solution?

The HomeServe Foundation is campaigning for a better deal for all SMEs and UK construction businesses seeking to hire and upskill apprentices. That means aiming to secure more money, creating less red tape and providing more opportunities to connect the unemployed with new construction and trade job opportunities.

Key to this is connecting the funding available directly with trade and construction businesses, particularly small ones with nine or fewer staff, which drive a huge chunk of the construction economy. Sixty per cent of the home improvement and repairs sectors’ output is from firms with nine or fewer workers.

Through the Foundation, we’re aiming to connect sole traders and trades businesses with government apprentice incentives of up to £4,000, but time is running out as they are currently only available until September 2021.

We’re challenging to get this extended, and we also we know that, for some construction businesses, even £4,000 isn’t enough. Research we carried out through our Checkatrade community shows that grants of up to £7,000 are far more likely to get more construction and trades businesses making that all-important step of bringing in a new apprentice.

Money matters, and it could be game changing if we can find more to support businesses with hiring new talent through apprenticeships.

Opportunities for all

There’s no doubt the impacts of the pandemic have hit the UK hard, with more people out of work, looking to retrain or seeking new career paths, so we have to make construction and trades appealing to them.

It’s up to government, training providers and charities like us to help provide the information that sole traders, and construction or trades firms need to make things simple to access these grants, find a new apprentice and take advantage of the opportunities.

And that’s what the ever-increasing construction demand we’re seeing right now is offering.


Opportunities for people out of work to find new jobs in the construction sector.

Opportunities for trades and construction businesses to grow, by investing in new skills and bringing in new people who could help them build a brighter future.

And, by doing this, can provide the catalyst for the UK to meet its bold construction and green targets.

Call for action

We’re hearing first-hand from trades and construction businesses that homeowners are currently waiting months longer than normal for home improvement works or repairs because there are simply not enough people available to do the work.

Our own research showed that 80 per cent of homeowners are planning to do some work on their house in 2021.

This is why we’re calling for action to help the construction sector capitalise on this, by boosting apprenticeships and making them more accessible.

We also need more flexibility in the use of the apprenticeship levy – some £2billion is reported to be unspent in the UK – as well as strong new public and private sector collaborations to shape new opportunities in the construction sector.

Increasing our talent pool in construction will not only help tackle the supply problem now and in the future, but also encourage young unemployed people to find new careers in our industries, because they’re the ones who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

It’s all our problem

This is not just a government problem, it’s an industry problem. But it is not insurmountable.

We need the construction industry to come together to tackle this challenge by utilizing the incentives, providing or enabling access to more support, and through better collaboration and partnerships.

With so many skills in immediate short supply, we must go faster.

We need to build these skills now.

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