The Rapidly Depleting Labour Pool:

A Deconstruction of Britain’s Construction Skills Crisis

The UK is currently facing one of the most damaging skills shortages it has ever seen. Simply put, there are not enough skilled craftspeople and laborers to carry out jobs across many different industries. Some of the most impactful causes for this crisis are an aging population, a return to economic growth and too few young people (16-25 year olds) taking ‘vocational’ career paths like BTECs and apprenticeships in favour of more ‘academic routes’ ie University degrees. A report published by DEMOS in 2015 found that parents and schools had an enormous impact on student’s career paths. Parents in particular did not perceive apprenticeships as valuable as academic qualifications. Some parents deemed apprenticeships ‘suitable for someone else’s children’, but not their own. The government has attempted to tackle this shortage with new legislation, namely the controversial Apprenticeship Levy proposed by Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond. This legislation requires companies of a certain size to pay a levy on top their wages each year. This levy can be claimed back after training new apprentices. However, the system was heavily criticised: by the end of its first year, industry called for change. Reforms were suggested in the autumn budget by Hammond with the promise of ‘preparing the nation for the new economy’ of a post-Brexit Britain. Whether these reforms will make any impact is yet to be seen, but it is hard to see any resolution in the near future. Perhaps the UK should work towards alleviating the stigma attached to ‘alternative’ forms of education, such as apprenticeships, and begin seeing them as an equal to University qualifications.

The question remains: what impact is the skills shortage having on the architecture and construction industry? Without skilled workers to carry out jobs in the construction industry, buildings will not be built. This then has a knock-on effect on other problems the UK faces such as the housing crisis. In Kate Barker’s Review of the Housing Supply (2004) she states that 240,000 homes need to be built every year to meet the housing demands, whereas only 189,650 were built in a 12-month period from September 2015; which is an 11% rise from the year prior but still not meeting target set more than 10 years ago. To meet this 240,000-home target, a report has suggested that 434,000 new laborers will be required between 2010-2020 to offset the number of skilled personnel retiring from industry. Where in the year 2015-2016 only 24,899 people started a construction relevant apprenticeship. Taking Brexit into consideration, which could see many skilled workers leaving or not returning to the UK there seems to be no end in sight. Needless to say, the coming years will be difficult for the architecture and construction industries, but could generous and thoughtful architecture provide some relief to the skills shortage? How will this issue evolve over the coming months?