UK construction employers warn of labour famine after apprenticeship numbers collapse

A UK construction employers body has warned that the industry will "grind to a halt" amid a collapse in the number of people becoming apprentices, a fall it blames on a controversial policy to boost those very numbers.

According to statistics from the Department of Education, there were 375,800 apprenticeship starts in 2017/18, compared with 494,900 in 2016/17 and 509,400 in 2015/16, a decrease of 24% and 26% per cent respectively.

The fall follows the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017, a tax paid by companies with a payroll higher than £3m a year, which can be claimed back to pay for apprenticeships.

A number of large construction firms objected to the new levy because they already pay a training levy to the country’s Construction Industry Training Board.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB), the UK trade body for small and medium-sized construction firms, has claimed that the fall in recruitment is due to the inflexible nature of the new levy.

Brian Berry, the chief executive of the FMB, said in a press statement: "From April 2019, large firms will be allowed to pass 25% of levy vouchers down through the supply chain to smaller firms, but the FMB is calling for this to be increased to 100%.

"This is an important change because in construction, it’s the smaller firms that train more than two-thirds of all apprentices. If the government is serious about creating 3 million quality apprenticeships by 2020, it must ensure the Apprenticeship Levy works for the construction industry."

Concern over the tightening labour market in the UK construction industry has been increased by the general uncertainty over the fate of Brexit, and a recent report from the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which recommended that the supply of low-skilled migrant workers be limited.

Berry said the MAC’s recommendations, which have been accepted by the government, would lead to a shortage of bricklayers, carpenters and general site labourers, who are classed as low-skilled.

He said: "New figures show that there were 2.3 million EU nationals working in the UK from July to September 2018, 132,000 fewer than one year earlier – that’s the steepest fall on record.

"We need to be training more UK-born apprentices to reduce future reliance on migrant workers from Europe or else the construction sector will grind to a halt. We need tens of thousands more apprentices and tens of thousands of migrant construction workers – of all skill levels." 

Image: Construction workers grab lunch in London, March 2017 (Elena Rostunova/Dreamstime)

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  1. The architects need to come out of the middle ages and into the 21 century in respect of the use of metal stud systems in lieu of brickwork for wall systems. Look to North America and substantially reduce wet trades Insufficient young people are interested in apprenticing for traditional wet trades for the current demand. It was the same when young people when not interested in driving coal fired locomotives when they could drive a diesel

  2. Although I think everybody agrees we need more skilled construction workers, Mr Berry wont be encouraging many when he says they are ‘low skilled’. I suggest he tries learning to be a traditional carpenter/joiner (proper, not part skilled) and see how long it takes him to learn how to use ALL the tools properly and accurately.

  3. £30k most tradesmen I know out there are earning way more then that, a good joiner should be getting between 800/1250 a week on price works, the issue is the paye that insist on paying the minimum wage and expect to get the works done by quality workers, when will companies realise if they pay peanuts they will get monkeys, good joiners/dry liners/electricians/plumbers are worth their wages they produce the same quality time after time and are fully set up with all their own plant to undertake the task needed, wages have risen over last few years and due to shortages will continue to rise I just hope that the QS ‘s have factored that into the tenders they are doing at present, my point being 30 k isn’t an issue in construction especially if it’s london ( I’m in Scotland and every tradesman worth a job wouldn’t work for less than 30k )

  4. i live in cornwall was working as a carpenter paye on 12 pph had to pay for my own van own tools and all my fuel, at the end of the month i was taking home a little over the minimum wage ,gave it up got a real job , now save at least 300 quid a month and earn more, no wonder the building trade is short of workers.

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