UK in danger of losing British tradespeople to jobs abroad

The UK construction industry is experiencing a severe labour shortage, with almost two-thirds of UK trades struggling to fill roles this year, according to new research.

The UK construction industry is experiencing a severe labour shortage, with almost two-thirds of UK trades struggling to fill roles this year, according to new research.

New research from the trades platform Rated People reveals UK tradespeople are also looking to leave the country to find work abroad which could make the situation even worse. Following recent news that Rishi Sunak has relaxed visa rules for foreign tradespeople to help plug the shortage1, Rated People says more needs to be done to sure up the industry.

The countries where UK tradespeople want to work

A better quality of life and enhanced career opportunities are driving UK tradespeople to seek work abroad and the new study uncovers which countries are attracting our skilled workers the most.

Researchers at the trades platform analysed Google data for 15 types of trade jobs in different countries around the world. By comparing UK search volume over the past year with the previous 12 months, the results show where different trades are increasingly looking to find work around the world.

In total, there were more than 1 million searches made for trade jobs in different countries since June 2022. Across the 15 trades, 10 are looking for work in Australia more than any other country. Saudia Arabia appears three times, and Brazil and Spain both feature once.

For construction jobs in general, searches for jobs in Saudi Arabia have gone up the most, with interest rising by 293% over the past year. Australia is where cleaners are looking for work abroad the most, with search volume increasing by 183%.

Plumbing jobs in Saudi Arabia have gone up by 171%, painting jobs in Australia have risen by 158% and plastering jobs in Australia have seen a 158% increase.

Other factors contributing to the workforce shortage

Brexit, a lack of young people getting into the industry and the cost-of-living crisis are key factors contributing to the lack of skilled workers in the industry.

Shockingly, the 2023 Rated People Home Improvement Trends Report reveals 48% of UK adults weren’t offered a trade career as a job option in careers advice at school. And, despite the UK government rolling out T-Levels to encourage more young people into apprenticeships, fewer than 10,000 students enrolled on a T-Level course last year2.

The newly rolled-out initiative has also recently faced criticism. Ofsted says the courses offer poor value, inappropriate work placements and high dropout rates, despite being described by the UK government as “gold standard” vocational qualifications2.

As a result of fewer young people entering the workforce, the average age of trade workers in the UK is increasing. The most recent data is from 2018, where ONS reported one in every five UK-born construction workers was aged over 55,3 meaning that now (in 2023) they would have surpassed retirement age and not enough young people are entering the industry to fill the gaps.

What needs to be done to solve the labour shortage

Adrienne Minster, CEO of Rated People commented: “The Government’s latest bid to fix the shortage by relaxing visa requirements for foreign workers is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to fix the root cause by encouraging more young people into the industry.

School careers advice should be highlighting the incredible opportunities available in the industry. Trade jobs can offer high earning potential and great work-life balance, and by choosing a vocational path after school, students can avoid the debt that many face from going through university and paying significant fees.

The Government also needs to enhance T-Level qualifications and make it worthwhile for trades businesses to offer apprenticeships so young people can get valuable experience whilst learning on the job.”