Checkatrade boss warns of shortage of skilled trade workers

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A shortage of skilled trade workers has developed as European Union migrants leave the UK and demand for home improvements rises, the founder of Homeserve has said.

Chief executive Richard Harpin said the shortages were "pretty bad" across the country, not just in construction but in other trades too.

He wants the government to put more trades on its jobs shortage list.

The Home Office said employers should invest in UK workers.

Mr Harpin, whose company also operates Checkatrade, told BBC Radio Four's Today programme he believed shortages were being caused by "mainly EU migrant workers going home".

He said it was "really important that we find a way to get them back" in order to cope with the "massive demand" for work.

"Our research in Checkatrade says 80% of homeowners are going to improve their home this year but they can only do that if we have sufficient trades to do those home improvements," he said.

"We are all living and working in our homes more, we want more doing, so I think this is an ongoing phenomenon."

Mr Harpin suggested two solutions to solve the shortage in skilled workers - a short-term move to expand the government's shortage of occupations list, and then a longer-term plan to get more school leavers to take up apprenticeships, rather than going to university.

"What we are asking for on the points system these skilled trades get enough points so they [the EU workers] can come back," he said.

"Currently, if you're an IT analyst, a vet or a graphic designer you can come back to UK, but it doesn't include bathroom fitters, kitchen installers, fencers, tree surgeons, locksmiths. There's a very long list," he said.

Industry bodies warned construction skills shortages were "hampering the activities of many small building firms".

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said he was "concerned by the year-on-year decline in construction apprenticeships in England".

He said an FMB survey, which received 215 responses from builders, found 38% were struggling to hire bricklayers, and 34% couldn't recruit carpenters.

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A recent report found all jobs vacancies in the UK were soaring but there were not enough workers to fill positions.

KPMG said the easing of Covid restrictions and reopening of various sectors meant demand for workers rose at its fastest rate in May for more than 23 years, but the number of staff available to fill those jobs declined at the quickest rate since 2017.

The hospitality industry has been particularly affected by worker shortages.

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The Road Haulage Association (RHA) has said HGV driver shortages of more than 100,000 was "hitting crisis level" due to a combination of factors, which included increasing supply chain demands.

In a letter to the prime minister, the RHA said many of its 60,000 drivers from EU member countries had returned home due to Covid travel restrictions and the "uncertainty of Brexit".

"The vast majority have not returned, nor are they expected to," said chief executive Richard Burnett.

"We are not going to solve this now by training drivers and as such need access to EU and EEA labour," he said.

He called on the government to introduce a temporary worker visa for HGV drivers and for the occupation to be added to the shortage occupation list.

In a statement, the government said its "plan for jobs" was helping people "retrain, build new skills and get back into work".

"Employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad," it added.

"The Skilled Worker Route of the Points Based System does allow employers to source eligible overseas trade workers in many occupations including bathroom fitters, kitchen installers, fencers, tree surgeons and locksmiths."