The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way the UK workforce operates, with many workers now settled into new working patterns and some even making career changes following a time of reflection. So, how has this impacted the 2021 state of work? Let’s take a look at which trades are seeing a rise in staff, and which are struggling to retain a dwindling workforce.

It goes without saying that any shift in career choices will shape the future of Britain’s economy, with highly skilled workers outshining those less able and some sectors seeing the true impact of a post-COVID skills-shift.

To answer some of these questions and to take a look at what has happened over the last decade and a half, we compiled Office for National Statistics data – looking at different trades and the workforce behind them. The data available spans from Oct 2004 – Sep 2020 and we’ve also made calculated predictions to forecast trade trends of the future.

Here’s what 16 years of data tells us about the the country’s attitude to work and how many skills we have to get the important jobs done:

Industries in decline: The jobs we’re losing

Looking at industries as a whole, rather than specific job roles, we can see those that are at a loss. With the data also showing specific jobs that are suffering as automation increases and technology adapts, ‘manpower’ and more laborious tasks are unfortunately made redundant and become obsolete.

Top ten declining industries Oct 2004-Sep 2005 Oct 2019-Sep 2020 Year-on-year average change Total growth/decrease over 10 years
Industry All persons in trade All persons in trade All persons in trade All persons in trade
Printing Trades 98,300 40,200 -0.086 -59.10%
Skilled metal, electrical and electronic trades supervisors 69,600 33,000 -0.072 -52.59%
Secretarial and Related Occupations 997,100 668,000 -0.039 -33.01%
Elementary Sales Occupations 173,300 117,500 -0.038 -32.20%
Assemblers and Routine Operatives 332,600 226,800 -0.038 -31.81%
Plant and Machine Operatives 215,200 148,000 -0.037 -31.23%
Metal Forming, Welding and Related Trades 128,800 90,700 -0.034 -29.58%
Process, plant and machine operatives 1,042,100 754,700 -0.032 -27.58%
Building Finishing Trades 236,400 183,800 -0.025 -22.25%
Administrative Occupations: Records 501,800 394,100 -0.024 -21.46%

 

Top ten declining jobs Oct 2004-Sep 2005 Oct 2019-Sep 2020 Year-on-year average change Total growth/decrease over 10 years
Profession All persons in trade All persons in trade All persons in trade All persons in trade
Glass and ceramics process operatives 12,000 2,800 -0.135 -76.67%
Typists and related keyboard occupations 113,000 39,600 -0.100 -64.96%
Assemblers (electrical and electronic products) 60,400 21,400 -0.099 -64.57%
Printing machine assistants 24,000 8,800 -0.095 -63.33%
Rubber process operatives 11,900 4,400 -0.095 -63.03%
Playworkers 58,200 22,100 -0.092 -62.03%
Street cleaners 9,900 3,800 -0.091 -61.62%
Tool makers, tool fitters and markers-out 24,900 9,800 -0.089 -60.64%
Paper and wood machine operatives 55,700 22,500 -0.087 -59.61%
Print finishing and binding workers 27,200 11,000 -0.087 -59.56%

Highly skilled trades, such as glass and ceramics process operatives have seen a huge decline since 2004 – at the current rate of decline, there will be less than 100 glass and ceramics process operatives by 2042. Typists and street cleaners are also facing the brunt of modernisation, with numbers expected to drop in the coming decades.

By 2040, based on the current rates of decline, there will be less than 1,000 working weavers and knitters and agricultural machinery drivers in the UK. Surprisingly, more modern trades, such as air traffic controllers are also at significant risk in the coming years thanks to continuing developments in automated processes.

Industries on the increase: The jobs we’re gaining

Top ten industries on the increase Oct 2004-Sep 2005 Oct 2019-Sep 2020 Year-on-year average change Total growth/decrease over 10 years
Profession All persons in trade All persons in trade All persons in trade All persons in trade
Animal Care and Control Services 50,900 121,900 0.091 139.49%
Quality and Regulatory Professionals 75,100 175,700 0.089 133.95%
Therapy Professionals 107,400 216,700 0.073 101.77%
Sports and Fitness Occupations 94,700 185,000 0.069 95.35%
Functional Managers and Directors 637,400 1,242,800 0.069 94.98%
Health Professionals 336,000 644,600 0.067 91.85%
Business, Research and Administrative Professionals 487,600 886,300 0.062 81.77%
Media Professionals 114,100 206,000 0.061 80.54%
Information Technology and Telecommunications Professionals 625,000 1,128,300 0.061 80.53%
Legal associate professionals 49,800 89,600 0.060 79.92%

With mental health becoming less of a taboo subject over the past 15 years and more of a concerted effort to look after our wellbeing, it’s not surprising to see therapy professionals on the increase. It’s a similar state of affairs for health professionals too, UK workers are looking to use their skills to help others, even more so with the constant news cycle of the pandemic having an emotional impact on the majority of the country. Demand for workers in this sector has also contributed to a rise of over 90%.

With the era of fake news rife over the past decade and the digitisation of the media meaning more job openings on smaller news sites, media professionals have almost doubled as access to news and information increases online.

Top ten jobs on the increase Oct 2004-Sep 2005 Oct 2019-Sep 2020 Year-on-year average change Total growth/decrease over 10 years
Profession All persons in trade All persons in trade All persons in trade All persons in trade
Business and financial project management professionals 55,900 312,500 0.188 459.03%
Police community support officers 2,900 13,100 0.163 351.72%
Chartered architectural technologists 2,500 8,400 0.129 236.00%
Quality assurance and regulatory professionals 41,300 132,400 0.124 220.58%
Veterinarians 10,000 30,000 0.116 200.00%
Public relations professionals 26,900 67,400 0.096 150.56%
Animal Care and Control Services 50,900 121,900 0.091 139.49%
Quality and Regulatory Professionals 75,100 175,700 0.089 133.95%
Programmers and software development professionals 175,200 407,600 0.088 132.65%
Actuaries, economists and statisticians 24,300 56,400 0.088 132.10%

If you’re thinking about a career change, you may want to consider one of these, as demand for these jobs has soared over the last decade and a half. The media industry is seeing a boom at the moment, as more businesses seek the benefits of employing public relations professionals and agencies to manage their image, reputation and communications both internally and externally.

Thanks to a huge increase in the UK’s remote workforce, many have used this as an opportunity to take on a pet. With this surge in new pet ownership, vets and pet-related retailers have seen a surge in demand. If you’re looking for a career with animals, now is the time!

The past 16 years has seen a recession, and a global pandemic which both decimated economies across the world. In all of this, data has had to guide decision making. Actuaries, economists and statisticians have increased as a result of demand and necessity, managing risk and outlook as businesses and Governments navigated through difficult and uncertain times. The power of data to forecast and inform decisions is likely to stick around given its pivotal role in the past ten years, meaning that demand for workers in this sector remains up.

A dive into skilled trades: What do the numbers say?

Skilled trades Oct 2004-Sep 2005 Oct 2019-Sep 2020 Year-on-year average change Total growth/decrease over 10 years
Profession All persons in trade All persons in trade All persons in trade All persons in trade
Steel erectors 12,100 6,300 -0.063 -47.93%
Glaziers, window fabricators and fitters 54,100 34,400 -0.044 -36.41%
Bricklayers and masons 105,100 68,000 -0.043 -35.30%
Floorers and wall tilers 47,300 31,300 -0.040 -33.83%
Groundsmen and greenkeepers 32,500 24,100 -0.029 -25.85%
Plasterers 50,900 39,000 -0.026 -23.38%
Metal plate workers, and riveters 6,600 5,400 -0.020 -18.18%
Painters and decorators 138,200 113,600 -0.019 -17.80%
Carpenters and joiners 258,100 214,100 -0.019 -17.05%
Vehicle technicians, mechanics and electricians 205,800 174,000 -0.017 -15.45%
Electronics engineers 35,800 30,900 -0.015 -13.69%
Air-conditioning and refrigeration engineers 17,000 15,000 -0.012 -11.76%
Plumbers and heating and ventilating engineers 157,400 150,800 -0.004 -4.19%
Civil engineers 77,300 74,300 -0.004 -3.88%
Precision instrument makers and repairers 21,600 23,300 0.008 7.87%
Roofers, roof tilers and slaters 44,100 50,300 0.013 14.06%
Mechanical engineers 72,400 82,700 0.013 14.23%
Electrical engineers 47,900 55,100 0.014 15.03%
IT engineers 40,400 49,900 0.021 23.51%
Gardeners and landscape gardeners 131,400 162,800 0.022 23.90%
Farmers 88,000 113,200 0.026 28.64%
Chartered architectural technologists 2,500 8,400 0.129 236.00%

Taking a look at the 14 skilled trades on the decline, steel erectors have been hit the hardest in the past 16 years with numbers falling by almost half. With many of these trades, it’s likely that the average age in the profession is on the increase as less young people chose to enter these trades. A ‘skills gap’ has been widely documented across skilled trades and as time goes on, more people will retire and leave the trade, leaving a hole in the workforce. The data shows a clear indication that not enough people are entering these trades to counteract the amount leaving.

By 2049, at the current rate of year-on-year decline there will be less than 1,000 steel erectors left in the UK. In the same year, at the same trends there’ll be less than 10,000 qualified professionals in the following jobs:

  • Metal plate workers, and riveters
  • Glaziers, window fabricators and fitters
  • Floorers and wall tilers
  • Groundsmen and greenkeepers
  • Air-conditioning and refrigeration engineers

By 2049, the decline in skilled trades if something doesn’t change looks bleak.

Skilled trades Oct 2004-Sep 2005 Oct 2049-Sep 2050 Year-on-year average change Total growth/decrease over 10 years
Profession All persons in trade All persons in trade All persons in trade All persons in trade
Steel erectors 12,100 889.2135806 -0.063 -92.65%
Glaziers, window fabricators and fitters 54,100 8843.862362 -0.044 -83.65%
Bricklayers and masons 105,100 18417.36532 -0.043 -82.48%
Floorers and wall tilers 47,300 9069.721007 -0.040 -80.83%
Groundsmen and greenkeepers 32,500 9826.935089 -0.029 -69.76%
Plasterers 50,900 17543.04919 -0.026 -65.53%
Metal plate workers, and riveters 6,600 2957.625845 -0.020 -55.19%
Painters and decorators 138,200 63094.16488 -0.019 -54.35%
Carpenters and joiners 258,100 122208.8495 -0.019 -52.65%
Vehicle technicians, mechanics and electricians 205,800 105162.4951 -0.017 -48.90%
Electronics engineers 35,800 19869.40389 -0.015 -44.50%
Air-conditioning and refrigeration engineers 17,000 10304.29473 -0.012 -39.39%
Plumbers and heating and ventilating engineers 157,400 132614.5519 -0.004 -15.75%
Civil engineers 77,300 65980.6779 -0.004 -14.64%

Key jobs in skilled trades that many of us rely on, including steel erectors, glaziers, window fabricators and fitters as well as plasterers and bricklayers could all be on the brink of disappearing by 2050. That’s if something doesn’t change now.

We need to see industries change and adapt to recruit more young people into the trades. With more young people entering the trade, it would offset the loss of an ageing workforce. Many of these trades are key to day-to-day infrastructure development in the UK and losing these skills could have a devastating impact.

What can trades do to invigorate declining jobs?

For many industries, young people entering the workforce early in their careers means they can learn the craft and make it a long term career – with many being business owners by the time they are 30. But, in order to encourage young people to make these choices, businesses in the industry need to engage with young people, sharing their success stories to encourage a new workforce.

While many young people may enter into a skilled trade through college and apprenticeships, a missed opportunity may be those that have opted to continue studying for A-Levels. For these students, the general direction is to head off to university, so it’s no surprise that many may not have even considered a career in specific trades – this is where recruitment outside of the usual routes can prove fruitful.

Communication and marketing needs to be a big part of each of the different industry’s goals – young people will better engage with clear and smart communication. To attract and recruit new talent to the industry, its image needs to adapt as well. Companies and industries that make noise, engage with social media and shout about what makes their trades great will see the tide change in the amount of people wanting a job.

Skilled trades offer an opportunity to become your own boss, for many this will be something that is harder to reach in their current line of work. Through clear communications, industry leaders and training providers can give advice about how learning a skilled trade could see people become their own boss and grow their own business. The benefits of upskilling become important here, as well as focussing on how to facilitate the teaching of new skills to people already in full time employment. Industry bodies partnering with skills training providers could become an effective recruitment machine for those looking for a career change.