A national shortage of skilled tradespeople, such as plumbers and electricians, is set to cost the UK £98bn in missed economic growth by 2030, according to new research by Kingfisher, owner of Screwfix, B&Q and TradePoint, in partnership with economics consultancy Cebr1.
The UK is currently facing a shortage of 166,000 tradespeople, with vacancy levels for many trades close to record highs.
The shortfall is forecast to grow to 250,000 tradespeople by 2030 as more homeowners look to improve their property’s energy efficiency by installing measures like insulation, heat pumps or solar panels. The biggest shortages are set to be among electricians, plumbing and heating installers, and carpenters/joiners.
The West and East Midlands and London are the regions predicted to be most impacted by tradesperson shortages, with regional GDP growth reduced by £14.5 billion, £12.1 billion and £11.7 billion respectively.
The findings come as a survey by Kingfisher of 1,000 16–25-year-olds2 reveals many young people are missing out on trade careers due to a lack of career advice at schools.
Half (49%) of young people said they have never considered a career in the trades, with only one in ten (13%) saying they were encouraged at school to consider trade career options. 42% said they would have liked more information about trade roles before deciding on their career path.
The research also revealed a stark gender divide when it comes to trade careers. Currently, just 2% of the UK’s 900,000 tradespeople are women. If the number of women tradespeople increased to just one third of the current number of men, it would solve the UK’s projected 2030 tradesperson shortage. Doubling the current number would boost growth by over £800m per year.
Yet only 35% of young women have ever considered a career in the trades, compared 60% of young men.
The gender gap also seems to be being exacerbated by an imbalance in advice given at schools, with only a quarter (26%) of young women saying they were given information about trade careers, compared to almost half (47%) of young men.
Thierry Garnier, Kingfisher CEO, said: “Tradespeople play a vital role in our economy and society - from improving and maintaining the nation’s homes to installing energy efficiency measures that cut bills and emissions. To maximise the UK’s growth but also to progress on net zero over the coming decade, it’s vital that business and Government work together to encourage and support more young people to consider trade roles – particularly young women who are seriously underrepresented. Trade careers are high-quality, skilled jobs, with significant earnings potential, and they should be valued just as highly as career options which require a university degree.”
A separate survey of 2,000 adults3 found that tradesperson shortages are already having an impact across the country, with one in five (19%) people saying they had had to cancel or postpone a project in the last five years due to not being able to find a suitable tradesperson.
But over a third (37%) think young people are discouraged – by parents, schools, and the government – from considering a trade career. Among parents, 61% think children are being put off from trade careers by a focus from schools on academic rather than vocational career paths.
Kingfisher also spoke to 585 tradespeople from across the UK. Almost half (45%) said they felt personally discouraged by their school or college to consider a career in the trade. That’s despite almost nine out of ten (87%) saying they would recommend trade careers to young people. One in three (35%) said the growth of their business had been directly impacted by not being able to find an apprentice.
To help young tradespeople grow their careers and create future industry role models, Screwfix runs an annual Trade Apprentice competition, awarding the winner a career-boosting prize bundle worth £10,000. It has also funded 14 trade apprentices through its partnership with Trac, transferring part of its apprenticeship levy. Following Kingfisher’s research findings, Screwfix is working on a campaign that will launch next year to connect its tradespeople customers with schools and colleges to inspire the next generation to consider a future in the trade.
Kingfisher is also proposing measures under three areas where Government could make a meaningful difference in addressing the trade skills gap, based on its research and insight from trade customers:
1. Stronger career advice in schools to encourage young people to take up a trade career
2. Hiring incentives to support SMEs in taking on, training and retaining apprentices
3. Cost of living support to ensure trade apprenticeships are financially viable for young people
Notes to editors
1. Cebr analysis of ONS Annual Population Survey Data combined with Cebr in-house macroeconomic forecasts. Full methodology available upon request.
2. Survey of 1,000 16-25 year olds carried out by OnePoll. Fieldwork dates 11-18 August 2023.
3. Nationally representative survey of 2,000 adults carried out by OnePoll. Fieldwork dates 11-18 August 2023.