From education to employment report calls for more apprentices in UK construction

John Frith, Chief People Officer at Checkatrade

Here, Checkatrade’s Chief People Officer John Frith discusses its ‘alarming’ findings including an all-time high skills gap, and his team’s new campaign to get thousands more young people into the trades through this route.

A million people. 

It’s the population of Fiji. Two times the workforce of the UK civil service. Over eleven times the capacity of Wembley. 

Alarmingly, it’s also the number of new recruits the UK’s trades and construction industry must find over the next decade – just to keep pace with demand.

A new report commissioned by us at has revealed vacancies in the sector are at record highs, and it’s a situation that should concern everyone who cares about the future of our economy. 

The UK Trade Skills Index, released this month and undertaken for us by research firm Capital Economics, has unveiled a huge skills gap that should come as a warning to us all.

The skills gap is being exacerbated by the familiar combination of an exodus of EU workers post-Brexit, the cost-of-living crisis, and an ageing workforce. All this has created a surge in vacancies as construction employers struggle to find staff. In the three months to October 2022, vacancies per 100 jobs reached 3.4, a record high. 

The report’s message was clear: the UK’s construction industry faces a very real, alarming crisis.

Most pressingly for the education sector, it also said that of this ‘missing million’ needed by 2032, nearly a quarter – 244,000 – must be qualified apprentices.

Let’s be clear: at present, we’re nowhere near that figure. 

Our report told us the number of construction apprenticeships completed in England has fallen by an average of 11% per year since 2017, with completions as a share of starts also falling. Safe to say, none of this is being helped by the Government pulling its lifeline apprenticeship incentive last year. 

To put that into real numbers, 24,400 construction apprentices are needed every year to prevent the industry skills gap becoming even more acute. That’s 34% higher than the average completions of just over 18,000 a year over the last five years. 

We’re stuck in second gear, and desperately need a significant boost to make up that shortfall for the good of our economy. As we know, the repercussions of a failing construction sector are severe. At its current rate, the Government is expected to miss its housebuilding target of 300,000 new homes each year. 

If this skills gap is allowed to open further, that situation is only going to get worse.

So, let’s do something about it, and fast. 

Our new campaign called ‘Get In’ will seek to help address this challenge. It’s part of the solution. 

Together with and its chairman, entrepreneur and investor Richard Harpin, we’re leading a series of new projects aiming to tackle the challenge, focused on school leavers and young people aged under 25. 

Launching this spring, our campaign will aim to get thousands more young people into trades careers through apprenticeships. Piloted in the Southeast before a national roll-out, we will seek to capture the CVs of young people aged between 16 and 25, connecting them to opportunities within’s membership base, as well as large trade employers and SME trade businesses. 

Construction apprenticeships are a fantastic way of getting a head start in a career in construction. They get on-site experience, immediately develop first-hand knowledge of the industry, meeting the real people who work there – quickly building their skillset from the off.

Specialisms-wise, we’re looking at shortages in each of the 11 occupations: electricians, carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers, painters, glaziers, scaffolders, plasterers, floorers, roofers and steel erectors. What particularly helps our cause is these are well-paid jobs. In 2022, seven out of the 11 occupations had median annual earnings above the average of the economy overall. Scaffolders came in top, at £38,100, with all having seen an acceleration in wage growth pretty much every year for the last decade.

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 clear apprentices 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.

For more information, and to see the full report including exclusive statistics and insights, visit our UK Trade Skills Index page here.

by John Frith, Chief People Officer at Checkatrade

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