Less young talent is being recruited and trained than ever before as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Property and construction companies may say they have too much on their plate right now to recruit young workers and trainees. Ramsey Assal, CEO at The Landsite, a Real Estate Marketplace gives his insight into why apprenticeships shouldn’t be overlooked, both for the longevity of individual businesses and the economic recovery of the UK and its property sector.
Reskilling and training will be essential to the UK’s post-pandemic recovery. And it’s something we need to think about now, rather than waiting for the pandemic to end, to put the property industry in the best position to recover, rather than allowing the UK skills gap we’re already witnessing to worsen.
The latest published government report on apprenticeships in the UK covers the period of 23 March 2020 - 31 July 2020. 58,160 new UK apprenticeships started during this time - down 46% when compared to the same period the previous year.
Within the property sector, manufacturing and engineering apprenticeships, which account for 10.6% of all UK apprenticeships, have been particularly hard hit. 44% fewer apprentices were recruited between March-July 2020 compared to the previous year.
Meanwhile, monthly vacancies fell hugely from the previous year - down by over 80% in April and May and down by 66% in June.
Government data shows a large increase in redundancies following the start of the pandemic. Between August and November 2020, the redundancy rate reached a record high of 14.2 per thousand, and consisted disproportionately of younger workers, still looking to cement their skillset and fully establish themselves within a company.
Over half of those aged 18-24 have become furloughed or lost their job since the pandemic started. This is compared to fewer than a third of 30-50 year olds being put in the same situation.
With COVID-19 hitting industries across the board financially due to not being able to open or loss in consumer demand, opportunities are disappearing for young people as companies try to save money.
Estate agencies have closed branches and reduced their services portfolios just to stay afloat, reducing the number of opportunities in the property sector.
In construction, activity has fallen lower than the previous record low at the height of the 2009 financial crisis. Architect workloads are dropping to the extent that one in five practices are letting staff go, with the younger and less skilled workers being disproportionately made redundant.
To worsen the situation, the £500 million the government originally committed to the National Skills Fund has been reduced to £375 million due to COVID-19 response costs.
Unless confronted, this will lead to a widening skills gap within the UK property sector.
The Junior Estate Agent apprenticeship, launched in 2018, is still in its early days. While this has provided aspiring agents with a chance to remote study towards becoming an agent, the numbers are minimal with just 84 apprentices joining the programme last year.
In construction, 12.6% of our workers originate from overseas, with 5.7% coming from the EU. In London, the number of construction workers originating from overseas increases to a huge 60%.
Having left the EU and lost potential sources of skilled workers supporting the property industry, it’s crucial we nurture the talent from within the UK. Failure to do so will lead to a widening skills gap across the sector, a ‘lost generation’ and a workforce unequipped for assisting the UK’s recovery from COVID-19.
To mitigate the growing skills gap, companies would do well to take time to plan in advance their investment in apprentices and training - how much budget they have, and exactly what it will be used for. This includes not only planning for the training period costs, but also reaching out to young talent through career fairs or similar at schools and colleges. Even during the pandemic, this can be done virtually.
In a similar vein, training can still be provided from afar through virtual training sessions. While many courses, in particular construction, require hands-on training, there is still much that can be taught online. Doing so will retain the interest of young learners and prepare them for starting work once social distancing measures lift.
Additionally, the government is beginning to put in place measures to assist with the skills gap problem. New cash incentives have been launched to encourage businesses to take on new apprentices and support the next generation of skilled workers. While this may not cover all the costs for hiring and training young workers, it is, at least, a start.