The UK Trade Skills Index 2023

The missing million: Will we find enough tradespeople in the workforce to build the future Britain?

The UK Trade Skills Index 2023: the go-to construction industry report powered by industry experts.

The UK Trade Skills Index 2023 is an independent industry-leading report that explores the future workforce needs of the construction and trades industry. The report has been commissioned by tradesperson directory Checkatrade, in partnership with leading independent macro-economic research firm, Capital Economics.

The report highlights key challenges the UK construction and trades industry will face over the next ten years, including “The Missing Million” – an alarming labour shortage that threatens the future stability of construction and trades, unless more young people are recruited to plug the skills gap.

The industry needs a pipeline of young talent if it is to keep up with demand – this report highlights how this can be achieved. 

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One Third

of the current workforce is aged over 50 & will retire in the next decade

qualified apprentices are required to plug skills gap by 2032
apprentices need to qualify each year to meet demand
new workers in construction and trade needed to meet growing demand by 2032

Missing million

The Trade Skills Index highlights a catastrophic skills gap engulfing the construction sector over the coming 10 years. There is a drastic need 937,000 new recruits in trades and construction by 2032 to combat the widening skills loss posed by Brexit, an ageing workforce and rising costs in order to meet construction demand. Of the 937,000 new workers required, nearly a quarter of a million – 244,000 – must be qualified apprentices in order to plug a growing gap. 

Britain’s construction workforce is declining, we need more young people to keep up with demand

The effects of an ageing workforce, Brexit and the cost-of-living crisis will put increasing strain on the construction workforce over the next ten years.

Currently, 35% of the construction and trades workforce is aged over 50. This ageing workforce and the physical ability of some older workers to continue in the sector until they reach the official retirement age of 67 presents a challenge for the construction sector. Without a pipeline of young talent in place, the UK will not be able to meet construction demand once this demographic reaches retirement age.

The exodus of EU workers also poses a signification threat to the UK’s access to a skilled workforce over the next ten years. EU workers have traditionally had a higher % role in the UK trade skills sector than many others, however this has been down 8.6% since 2019 – or 198,000 workers, so this poses a live and significant risk to the sector.

Despite an anticipated short-term fall in construction output, the UK must ramp up the number of completed construction apprentices (by around 25k per year) to meet demand/need and avoid the skills gap worsening – that’s an increase of around 34% above the current levels over the last five years.

We need to be ready for a recovery of the UK economy, expected to happen in 2024.

apprentices needed each year

Engaging young people in trades careers will be crucial for meeting construction demand by 2032, the Trade Skills Index 2023 reveals. As the UK faces a skills gap of over 937,000 workers in the next ten years, the demand for more qualified young people to enter the industry will soar. Our report reveals that 244,000 qualified apprentices are required to plug the skills gap by 2032. This is the equivalent of 25,000 qualified apprentices every year, or 500 qualified apprentices every week, for the next ten years in order to keep up with construction demand.

Ensuring that young people understand the opportunity and prospects that can be offered by a career in the trades will be crucial to this success.

Construction and trade vacancies are at a record high

The UK needs young people to plug the skills gap

The Trade Skills Index 2023 reveals that construction and trade vacancies are now at record highs, with widespread shortages particularly prevalent among plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters and electricians. 

In fact, the UK has seen a sharp rise in skills shortages across construction – from 29 per cent at the start of 2021 to 55 per cent at the end of the year 2021. These shortages have persisted through 2022.

Despite an anticipated short-term fall in construction output, the UK must ramp up the number of completed construction apprentices to avoid the skills gap worsening – an increase of around 34 per cent above the current levels.

Demand for carpenters and electricians will
surge over next decade.
Completed apprenticeships will help meet the demand.

In the eleven construction trades that were the focus of our original report, employment in total is forecast to rise by 92,100 over the next 10 years, a gain of 9.0%. The largest rises in employment are forecast to be for carpenters (23,900), electricians (22,900) and plumbers (19,500).

To meet this demand, the Trade Skills Index 2023 calculates that a minimum of 244,000 completed construction apprenticeships are required by 2032, an average of 24,400 per year. This represents a 34% rise compared to the average of the last five years. 

The need for apprenticeships is concentrated in the eleven occupations listed in the table, which account for an average of 19,800 per year — an increase of around 38% above the average level of the past five years. These estimates represent the minimum number needed to prevent current skills shortages getting worse. More apprentices would be required to tackle current shortages.

new recruits needed in construction and trades over next 10 years
qualified apprentices needed by 2032 in the following trades

8 out of 10 construction workers are male - women could help plug the skills gap.

The Trade Skills Index report reveals that 85% of the construction labour workforce is male.

More work needs to be done to encourage women into trades careers to help the UK meet the skills gap of one million workers.

9 out of 10 construction apprentices are male - we need to encourage more girls to consider careers in trades

Construction and trades apprenticeships are also currently dominated by boys and young men. In 2021/2022, 92% of construction apprenticeship starts were male, which is significantly higher than than the gender split across apprenticeships overall – where boys make up 49% of apprenticeship starts.

There has been some progress in increasing the number of female construction apprentices in the UK. The number of female apprentices in construction has risen at an average annual growth rate of 25.1% from 2016/17 to 2021/22. This compares to an annual average growth rate of 3.2% for males over the same period. However, the growth in female apprentices is from a small base and construction apprentices are still overwhelmingly male.

More needs to be done in schools and communities to encourage girls to consider a career in the trades.

The skills shortage has created an acceleration in wages
Most skilled occupations had above average wages in 2022

Current challenges to the construction and trades workforce are creating an increase in demand, and therefore an increase in wages costs.

In 2022, seven out of the 11 occupations have median annual earnings above the average of the economy overall.

The occupation with the highest median annual earnings is scaffolders, at £38,100, whilst the occupation with the lowest average annual earnings was glaziers, at £24,700. Whilst this is great for the workforce, it means that construction costs will increase as a result.

If construction apprenticeship completions were to continue at the rate seen in the last five years, there would be a shortfall of 62,600 qualified construction workers in 2032. And all other things being equal, construction wage inflation would be higher as a result.

The 62,600 shortfall is equivalent to 4.3% of projected construction employees in 2032. Using the approach in our report, we calculate that this would result in construction wages being 4.3% higher than they otherwise would have been.

Such an increase would add around £2,043 in today’s prices to the annual cost of the average construction employee in 2032.

This would equate to annual labour costs for construction employers being about £3.0 billion higher in today’s prices than would otherwise be the case (£3.9 billion after factoring in inflation).

Backed by industry leaders

The worrying statistics revealing the reluctance of small business owners to take on apprentices coupled with the declining starts and completions should serve as a wake-up call for the entire industry.

Apprenticeships have been proven time and again to be an invaluable resource for nurturing talent and building a skilled workforce, so it’s essential that we address this issue promptly and proactively.

With Get In, we’re aiming to do just that. Not only will we be collaborating with industry leaders to inspire and motivate a new generation of tradespeople to join our industry, but we will also be getting CVs of ambitious, talented young people in front of great employers.

It’s crucial to acknowledge the role that apprenticeships will play in bridging this divide and shaping the future of the industry.

Our upcoming campaign, named Get In, aims to address this challenge, and make a substantial impact, and we’d encourage more young people to get involved and submit CVs, so we can help bridge the divide.

We’re excited to collaborate with industry leaders, government officials and regional decision makers to inspire and motivate a new generation of tradespeople to join our industry.

The solution:
engage more young people in trades careers


16-25's: Take charge of your future... Get In!

Get In aims to help connect young people ages 16-25 with their first trades job.

It’s easy to take the first step – just upload your CV to our jobs board! Employers looking for an apprentice can easily find you, and together, you’ll start your apprenticeship journey.

No CV? Not to worry, check out or resources to get you started:

Years 10 and 11: Get a taste for the trades at school with Try A Trade

Careers fairs for schools can often be bland and uninspiring, and that’s why Try a Trade is so different.

We’re helping students in Years 10 and 11 to discover more about careers in the trades, by giving teachers and career advisers everything they need to help inspire a new generation of young people about the incredible apprenticeship and career opportunities in trades like plumbing, electrics, and carpentry.

The Try a Trade careers programme, powered by Checkatrade, is aiming to help plug a national trade skills gap of almost ONE MILLION workers over the next decade, by connecting young people with a world of limitless possibilities in a trades career.

A Try a Trade careers day aims to break down barriers to access in the trade industry, and open young people’s minds to the earning power and potential of life as a tradesperson.

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