The UK faces a construction apprenticeship “crisis” after new figures revealed just one in five of the sector’s small business owners plan to take one on this year.
The statistics, taken from a survey of tradesperson directory Checkatrade’s member base* shows the appetite among SMEs for hiring apprentices is currently low, with just 20 percent planning on doing so over the coming year.
The figure for firms employing between 10-19 employees was as low as nine percent, while for sole traders it was 17 percent.
The stats make for concerning reading when viewed alongside Government figures that show apprenticeship starts dropped by 4.1 percent in the six months to January 2023 – from 203,990 to 195,600.
That’s as well as Checkatrade’s UK Trade Skills Index report, which earlier this year revealed apprenticeship completions had fallen by 11 percent a year since 2017.
And exacerbating the problem further, a quarter of business owners told Checkatrade’s SME survey that skills shortages and the challenge of finding suitable staff is their biggest concern – even above rising costs and inflation; and being too busy.
The figures have been released against a backdrop of research proving apprenticeships to be a productive and effective way of growing talent and developing a motivated, skilled, and qualified workforce. Of those surveyed, 86 percent of employers believe apprenticeships help them develop skills relevant to their organisation, while 78 percent say they help improve productivity**.
This summer, Checkatrade is launching its new Get In programme, aimed at getting thousands more young people under the age of 25 into the trades through apprenticeships.
It will seek to capture young people’s CVs and connect them to opportunities within Checkatrade’s membership base, as well as large trade employers and SME trade businesses.
Richard Harpin, Founder of HomeServe and Chairman of Checkatrade, is spearheading the campaign. He said: “Without a doubt, the construction industry finds itself in something of a crisis when it comes to apprenticeships.
“The worrying statistics revealing the reluctance of small business owners to take on apprentices coupled with the declining starts and completions should serve as a wake-up call for the entire industry.
“Apprenticeships have been proven time and again to be an invaluable resource for nurturing talent and building a skilled workforce, so it’s essential that we address this issue promptly and proactively.
“With Get In, we’re aiming to do just that. Not only will we be collaborating with industry leaders to inspire and motivate a new generation of tradespeople to join our industry, but we will also be getting CVs of ambitious, talented young people in front of great employers.”
The Get In programme is being launched following the release of Checkatrade’s UK Trade Skills Index 2023, which reported earlier this year that the UK will need almost a million new plumbers, bricklayers and other tradespeople by 2032 just to keep pace with demand. The figure for qualified apprentices contributing to that total is around 250,000.
But with the Government last year ending its apprenticeship incentives for businesses introduced during the pandemic, that target is looking increasingly difficult to hit.
The Trade Skills Index report also highlighted an “urgent and alarming” shortage in trades professionals, with the issue exacerbated by the post-Brexit exodus of European workers and an aging workforce, one third of whom are aged over 50 and will likely retire within the next 10 years.
Melanie Waters, Managing Director of Trade-Up and Checkatrade’s Get In programme, said: “It’s a shock to see the number of apprenticeship starts dropping and such reluctance from businesses to take on this type of employee.
“These numbers should be going up, not down, but we know there are barriers and we’re aiming to help trade employers – big and small – to address this.
“Through the Get In programme, we’re aiming to bridge the gap by providing opportunities for more young people to enter the trades through apprenticeships, as well as educate those businesses about apprenticeships and what fantastic additions they could prove to be to these firms.
“Together, we can overcome this crisis and help secure a prosperous future for the construction industry, so watch this space for more news as we launch this summer.”