Anne Timpany, Director of On Tap Plumbers, discusses how we can all help to promote apprenticeships and trade careers to young people, and make the industry more welcoming.

No one disputes the importance of the construction industry to the UK economy. It currently represents 7% of annual GDP and is worth many billions of pounds.

Encompassing both the domestic and commercial marketplace, it’s also a key source of employment involving hundreds of thousands of people at every level, from the boardroom to the tradespeople, with a multitude of suppliers and manufacturers in between.

It’s a fact that there is a severe skills shortage in the vocational trades, such as plumbing, plastering and building and this is not being addressed at the heart of the education system in schools. There is a distinct sense of snobbery about the vocational trades and very few, if any, schools actively encourage pupils to choose a trade rather than a university.

We need to educate the educators, parents and essentially employers about the wide ranging employment opportunities in both the domestic and commercial sectors and it’s vitally important to get more apprentices and young people inspired at an early age.

Although London Mayor Sadiq Khan recently announced his plans for a construction academy, it’s really too little and too late. Every company in the trade industries should be working together to engage more fully with our future workforce and attract them into what can be a very satisfying and prosperous career as early as possible. There are many attractive opportunities available to both the brightest children and those who are not so academically gifted.

Yet the statistics of employer engagement with young people are not encouraging. Only 40% of school children experience any quality work-related encounters, which is probably why 50% of young people are concerned about their job prospects.

It seems that children who receive high quality work encounters go on to earn up to 18% more than their counterparts who don’t. There are currently a shocking 1 million young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs). That’s a scandalous waste of not only a potential workforce but also of young lives. It has been shown that more encounters with an employer during education reduces the chance of a young person becoming a ‘NEET’ by 55%.

We have to create more business mentoring programmes and help to remove barriers. Employers need to go into schools and talk to the pupils at an early age. Diversity is also important – we want more female plumbers in our industry, as well as welcoming ethnic minorities, the disabled and the LGBT community. Of course age should not be a barrier but we are talking about inspiring the future workforce when they are young and making decisions about their futures.

We also have to learn how to communicate with the next generation in their own language. As well as going into schools and colleges and talking to pupils and students, it’s absolutely essential to reach young people on social media. There are so many popular platforms, including Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and others.

While an older generation might feel they can’t keep up, or even get started, they can get help from a number of sources, including their own children and social media professionals.

We have to come together as an industry and support organisations such as Built Environment Skills in Schools and the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors to greatly improve outreach and ensure that our thriving industry can continue to prosper for many years to come and provide stable and worthwhile careers for the next generation.

Watch my recent presentation on this topic at London Build here.

Help us to change the image of plumbing. Get your phones out and tweet us (@OnTapTweets), join us on Instagram (@OnTapPlumbers), or post on Facebook (@OnTapPlumbers). Use the hashtag #OnTapApprentices.