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A Critical Building Staff Shortage in the UK?

Let’s say you own a Victorian or a Regency home, it needs external cornicing repaired, bricks repaired replaced and re-pointed, the roof fixed to match the original Welsh slate, but it’s Grade I or II listed, who can you get to do this that has the experience and skill sets?

How can you recognise a trained competent builder or tradesperson?


This is a question asked across the kingdom with poor replies. Over a third of specialist builders are over fifty, there is no real apprentice scheme, just a lot of semi-skilled labourers picking up skills, and young people simply do not want to work in the cold or wet, neither do they want to work outside in the new problem area,the heat.


Out of every 1000 builders around 30 can put a hat on that says “I’m a heritage specialist builder or craftsperson” The government has thrown some dubious figures out there saying we need 225,000 new builders by 2027 or billions of pounds will be lost, or what they really mean is the tax paid on these billions to the government will be lost. It’s probably a lot more than that.


As the planning conservation laws now stand older buildings that have a grade listing must apply to make any changes, submit a heritage report and then find a builder. Simply finding a surveyor with a good knowledge of heritage buildings is like trying to find hens teeth. The young graduates just don’t have the experience, so things seem dire.



Conservation Officers are now, post covid, home workers mainly, or locums drawn from a city far away with no local knowledge. and there are less of them, so inevitable short cuts are having to be taken. Sadly, even if you find a good heritage builder or craftsman, a good heritage advisor or heritage surveyor you will have to book them in and wait

(usually 6-12 weeks).


Where are all these specialists? You don’t have to fly a drone very far in the UK before you start seeing large privately owned estates. Most of these estates have their own restoration staff a surveyor and maintenance staff that are often in-house trained.


These craft and tradespersons get a regular secure salary, private pension and of course paid holidays, unlike 90 percent of their counterparts in the public sector who are usually self-employed and simply cannot afford to stop working for six weeks a year. When you add into this Heritage England’s thousands of properties that need maintenance and restoration plus the specialists they hire on a regular and semi-permanent basis you can start to see where all the heritage builders, craftsperson’s, plasterers, ornamental plasterers and decoration specialists are.  


Neil as young apprentice........


The days of bespoke builders that trained their own apprentice’s and worked for the local gentry or the NT and proletariat are over. The new torch bearers are not engaging or offering

training to the outside world. IHBC have made a start but yet to fully embrace the ideal.  


The small home owner has now got very little choice but to try and repair his or her home themselves.


It’s easy to complain, and we should, but really all of these problems that are now in crisis could be resolved by the Government investing money inward and subsidising apprenticeships of 4 years or so and getting certified, (Nice faux velum certificate with a red seal), proud to go forward with letters after his or her name. A living wage for a young person would mean becoming a builder or craftsperson would hold a lot of merit and young people (perhaps some older people) would jump at a career in this now staff depleted industry on this basis. It would give them something somewhat reserved for professional’s, self-worth. It would mean investing in Britain’s future, something bandied about but not acted on. Many people and companies say we are Heritage trained! I say – Heritage Qualified? IHBC?


If we can send billions in aid to so many countries, most undeserving, one of which just landed a vehicle on the moon, why can’t someone in power just make a decision to say “no more free cash” Spend all or some of that money training our youth, for Britain’s Heritage future.


Paul McCartney once famously said “ the thing about the Beatles is…” no not that..“all charity should start at home”. He was right.


Let’s hope in 50 years we still have heritage buildings that are properly looked after.



Neil England, member IHBC


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