The Number of Tradespeople in the UK

A tradesperson stood in front of a graph

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May 19, 2023

From plumbers and joiners to glaziers and decorators, there are thousands of skilled tradespeople to rely on when you want a job in the home done.

Now and again surveys attempt to assess just how many tradespeople in the UK there actually are.

A good way of calculating this figure is to take a look at the government’s Office of National Statistics records. Under the category ‘employment type’ you’ll find a whole plethora of trades to help with home improvements listed. Not just the ones we have mentioned in the introduction to this guide, but plenty of others too, such as:

  • Floorers and wall tilers
  • Air-conditioning and refrigeration engineers
  • Civil engineers
  • Landscape gardeners
  • Chartered architect technologists

To answer the question posed ie how many tradespeople in the UK, the answer is actually around 2,500 tradespersons per million.

Naturally, the number of UK tradespeople and their particular skill isn’t distributed evenly throughout the country. A recent survey by insurance company Direct Line for Business showed a concentration of tradespeople in the South East of the country.  The most throughout the UK, in fact. And London is well-served too, with one tradesperson per every 130.6 households.

The number for the South East isn’t much lower, with one tradesperson per 137.5 households. That equates to more than 27,500 tradesmen or tradeswomen in that region alone. The East of England is third highest area for tradespeople, with

19,870 individuals listed, while there are 16,155 skilled workers offering their services in the South West.

The North East is the least well-represented in the skilled trades, showing just one qualified and skilled painter, joiner, plumber etc, per 305 homes.

Number of Tradesmen

There are increasingly fewer UK tradesmen and tradeswomen every year. Brexit was one cause of this, with the Office for National Statistics showing there are 244,000 fewer workers in the construction industry than three years ago.

This is backed up by data from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). They report that 64 per cent of small companies found it difficult to recruit bricklayers and carpenters from July to September last year. Another 59 per cent of SMEs said the same about attempting to hire a carpenter.

Number of Tradeswomen

But perhaps you’re wondering how many UK tradespeople are female? Well, new research shows an increase in the number of women entering the skilled trades professions.

To the extent around six per cent of workers make up the number of plasterers, plumbers and builders in the industry. In fact, a study by Direct Line found there were around 33,000 tradeswomen in the UK, compared to 15,000 a decade earlier.

Meanwhile, a study published in Probuilder magazine showed that painting and decorating was the most popular trade for females (33 per cent), followed by plumbing and heating (28 per cent) and electrician (12 per cent).

England

There are around 129,700 tradespeople in England at this current moment. A total of 26,705 of those are in London alone.

Scotland

In Scotland, there is one tradesperson per 286 households. That’s equivalent to 8,950 skilled individuals.

Wales

In Wales, the number of skilled tradespeople is even lower than Scotland and Northern Ireland, at one individual per 230 households. That’s equivalent to 6,280 skilled people providing tiling, bricklaying etc.

Northern Ireland

The least impressive statistic when it comes to the ratio of skilled tradesperson per household is in Northern Ireland. Here there are just 5,245 such individuals.

Individual trades and employment numbers

An illustration of different tradespeople

When it comes to individual trades, the numbers are even more illuminating, such as the statistics for particular skills. Some of these, based on figures from the Office for National Statistics and covering the period Oct 2004 – Sep 2020 are broken down here:

Builders

In the year beginning Oct 2004 to Sept 2005 there were a total of 105,100 bricklayers and masons in the UK. By the period October 2019 to September 2020 that figure had fallen to 68,000 individuals. That’s a drop of 43,000 skilled workers or just over 35 per cent.

Plumber

There were a total of 157,400 plumbers recorded in the UK from Oct 2004 to Sept 2005. That number fell by 7,400 just 16 years later. That’s equivalent to a fall of just over four per cent.

Electricians

Electrical engineers and electricians saw a big fall in numbers – 7,200 in the 16 years between the study dates. That’s a drop in the number of electricians available for employment of just over 15 per cent.

Roofers

The number of skilled roofers around actually bucked the trend. Instead of a decrease, the number of roofers for hire increased by 6,200 over the same 16-year period. That’s a jump of 14 per cent.

Change Over Time

It’s clear that many trades have been falling out of favour by school leavers in the last decade or so. The reason is that more young adults are being encouraged to attend university and get a degree to help them get on the career ladder and find a well-paid job.

A university education isn’t necessary for the majority of trades. Instead, many plumbers, electricians, joiners etc start out via an apprenticeship with their local council or private company. Some learn their trade at college full-time.

It may be too that skilled trades are seen as less fashionable employment compared to working in digital marketing or as a coder with a software company, for instance.

The problem with this is that as the average age for a skilled UK tradesperson increases, many of these men and women will retire in time, leaving a dearth of skilled individuals for householders to choose from. That’s because, with the exception of roofing, there just aren’t enough young people entering the profession to plug the gap made by retirees. In fact, the organisation About Apprenticeships reckon the UK needs to train around 24,400 every year to meet the growing demand for skilled tradespeople.

Meanwhile, further studies show that if the current rate of decline continues in the same vein then certain trades will really be struggling for members to carry out jobs. That’s because their membership will number less than 10,000. The ‘householder hire’ trades we are referring to include:

  • Glaziers, window fabricators and fitters
  • Floorers and wall tilers
  • Air-conditioning and refrigeration engineers

Demand for Tradespeople

Moving forward to the year 2049 and continuing with the same rates show alarming declines in the skilled trades sector. For instance, the number of bricklayers and masons in the UK by then will have fallen to around 18,400. That’s a drop of almost 83 per cent.

Available electronics engineers for hire are expected to have nearly halved, with a drop of 44.50 per cent.

The drop in the number of plumbers, heating and ventilating engineers isn’t expected to be quite as drastic. Instead, there will be around 16 per cent fewer around mid-way through the century.

In order to turn this depressing scenario around, those in the trade associations and industry analysts suggest emphasising the ‘be your own boss’ aspect of learning a trade. Marketing should also feature positive case studies of individuals running successful businesses and having trained as a plumber, builder, electrician etc.

The advantages of upskilling to those looking for a change in career can also be advertised.

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