Data from the Department for Education stats show the number of completed apprenticeships in England fell from 12,420 in 2018 to 7,700 in 2022, limiting much-needed extra recruits for the construction sector.

Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s Education Chief, revealed that the number of completed apprentices in construction has fallen by almost 40% in just five years as a Construction Skills Network report found that 53,000 extra recruits were needed each year over the next four years to meet projected UK construction demand.

Construction expert and broadcaster of Fix Radio – the UK’s only national radio station dedicated to tradespeople – Clive Holland, expains how the growing decline of apprentices is impacting the construction industry.

As of 2017, the Apprenticeship Levy was introduced across the UK which is a form of taxation designed to help companies offer more apprenticeships, yet data by the London Assembly Economy Committee (LAEC) showed that 18% fewer people began construction apprenticeships in London in 2020/21 than in 2017/18. The Levy clearly states that it is for employers with a payroll of more than £3 million per year. LAEC discovered that fewer apprenticeships in SMEs in particular were available since the levy was introduced and calls for the government to allow businesses to transfer a greater proportion of their levy funding to smaller, non-levy paying firms. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Education has revealed that apprenticeships remain a key priority and plan to increase funding by £2.7 billion by 2024-2025 to support businesses of all sizes to build the skilled workforce they need. Yet, the Construction Industry Training Board found that an extra 216,800 construction workers would be needed by 2025 to meet demand.

The LAEC made recommendations to ministers, including the introduction of financial incentives for employers to hire apprentices under the age of 19 as the number has fallen by half since 2016/17. Neil Garratt, the Economy Committee chair, discussed how these apprentices provide opportunities for existing workforces to gain new skills as much as providing pathways into work for young people, but without financial incentives, young people are less likely to find a career path that is right for them. 

As it stands, the age limit on apprenticeships in the UK isn’t fixed, however, there are restrictions on the availability of funding. These apprenticeships are funded by the government and are typically reserved for young people aged 16 to 24, limiting the number of people over 24 beginning a construction apprenticeship. Currently, apprentices who are aged over 19 and have completed their first year of their course are entitled to a minimum of £5.28 per hour, which is half of the National Living Wage across the UK.

Clive Holland continues with a comment on the status of apprenticeships in the trades: 

“In the United Kingdom, we’ve got over 1.3 million unemployed in this country, if that is the case, that is quite a shock. In the background, if over one million people are unemployed and there’s all these job vacancies that need filling in the construction industry, I think the age limit for apprenticeship funding should be wiped out now. 
 
If one day, someone woke up and fancied working in construction, you would have to start from scratch. You couldn’t afford to be on an apprentice wage, the company taking you on couldn’t afford to build that money up for you, so therefore, you get overlooked. 
 
Not everybody is available to provide more than an apprenticeship wage, they need government support to be able to do that. That is the same for bricklayers, gas service engineers or electricians, if the government asked all of our construction industry and individual trades to work throughout COVID, it’s now time to thank them. I think now is the time to go ‘here’s the support’. The Government can focus on apprentices and get people into schools and colleges to talk about the industry and the positives of becoming a tradesperson.”

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