As a new cohort of students pack their bags and head off to university to follow their academic dreams, entrance into the skilled trades industry is sadly in decline, writes Ollie Plastow of Consensus Workspace.
This year saw record numbers of young people seeking places at university, with 311,000 18-year-olds applying for courses, which is 10% more than the previous record of 281,000 in 2020. The most popular courses were nursing, law and psychology.
In contrast, 2020 saw only 91,000 apprenticeships start between August and October, according to the Department for Education. This relatively low figure could be attributed to Covid, but just 3% of young people aged between 18-24 have searched for a job in the trade industry according to YouGov. This is despite the fact that 74% of parents would encourage their child to learn the skilled trades.
Why is it happening?
There is certainly the demand. Brexit and Covid have led to a huge shortage of skilled tradespeople in the UK. The trades offer great learning and earning potential along with genuine job satisfaction and as the labour shortage continues, that prospective salary is only increasing.
So, if it isn’t income, it must be image. How do young people view a trade career? Universities have marketing budgets that go well into the millions of pounds, in order to entice young people. But what do today’s schoolchildren hear about the construction industry? Is it perceived as a last-ditch option?
The industry itself needs to do more to appeal to young people, varying its recruitment tactics and approaches to reach and attract more candidates.
This means promoting the range of potential careers to people when they are still at school – and working with schools to encourage and develop practical skills alongside academic pursuits.
What can we do?
There needs to be more industry-led, strategic marketing that communicates the industry’s developments in AI, health and safety and sustainability. We need more aspirational role models and a more diverse, relatable community: two years ago, just 12% of the construction industry were women and only 5.4% were BAME. This is just not a reflection of our society and could easily deter many from seeing it as an attractive career option.
More young people need to see a trade as a first-choice career with longevity and satisfaction. I loathe the idea that an academic course or career should be held in higher regard than a skilled practical one. I left school at 16 and have worked ever since. I co-founded Consensus Workspace at the age of 22 and we have just celebrated our third anniversary and busiest year to date. My role is hugely satisfying: I get to travel all over the UK, meet clients in a range of professions, consult with them and apply my expertise to creating interiors and delivering construction fitouts for them. That expertise was learned on the job. We have a young team and an apprenticeship scheme to continue this pattern.
The Chartered Institute of Building has warned that the UK cannot afford for construction to be viewed as a last resort career path. The government has budgeted to incentivise up to 100,000 new apprenticeships starts this year which is great – but we should aim for young people pursuing a trade career without being given an incentive.
A trade career should be an aspiration of school-leavers, and promoted and encouraged by us all. With fresh ideas and youthful enthusiasm, those school-leavers will help drive the UK construction industry into the future.
- Ollie Plastow is co-founder of Consensus Workspace