If you work in the building trade, you’ve probably heard a lot of talk about the future of the industry. On the one hand, we’ve got big government plans to shake up the whole sector to make it greener and more efficient. On the other, we’ve got the skills shortfall and worries about how many boots we have left on the ground.

With a target of 300,000 new homes and 180,000 new vacancies to fill, it’s looking like UK construction’s being pulled in two directions at once. At some point, the cracks are going to start showing.

What's the problem?

A big part of the problem is that the popularity of construction with younger people is getting shakier.

Back in 2011, the building trades were responsible for employing about 2.2% of people aged 22-29. Since then, that figure’s actually gone up. As of 2017, the statistic stood at 2.5%.However, that really doesn’t show the full picture.

In real terms, construction has dropped from the 7th most popular sector for that age group in 2011 to the 12th now. It’s actually the biggest drop seen by any industry in the UK over that period – and we haven’t even begun to see the real effects of the Brexit Bite yet.

10% of UK construction workers right now are EU nationals, including 1 in 3 London builders. If the Brexit deal shuts those skilled hands out of the UK workforce, it’s hard to see where the shortfall will be made up.

Can technology help?

Technology is one piece of the skills gap puzzle – and it’s looking like quite a big one. 3D printing on-site, survey drones and even self-building homes can take some of the strain off an industry struggling to meet its manpower needs.

Any industry with an ageing overall workforce is likely to feel a skills shortfall at some point. At this critical time, it’s more important than ever to invest in the upcoming generation – the real future of UK construction.

At the end of the day, though, we’re going to need new blood - and to find a way of keeping it.

How can the industry attract more young people?

More accessible and attractive apprenticeships are extremely valuable, of course. Promoting construction within the educational system is also a strong move in building the next generation of home-grown talent.

No single measure is going to solve all construction’s problems overnight, though. It’s a question of proving that the building game is still worth playing in the long term.

UK construction has always been driven by innovation and necessity. As the country’s needs change, so does the industry itself. There’s nothing inevitable about its decline in popularity as a career choice. However, we need to prove that it’s a path worth following.

What’s more, it’s actually a really good time to be taking your first steps along it, or to come back after working in other fields. Those same skills pressures that everyone’s worried about are actually pushing construction’s wages up.

What can I earn in the construction industry?

Graduate schemes are seeing starting salaries of £23,000 - £30,000, and the shift toward high-tech methods is making it easier than ever to transfer in from other technical fields.

If you're already working in construction, you could be due more than you're actually getting in your pay packet. If you travel to sites for work, or if you're on the CIS scheme, then you're probably due a tax refund.

Whether you're on the books or self employed, have a look at our quick tax refund calculator and find out if you're due money back from HMRC. The average first refund (you can claim for the previous 4 tax years) is £2500 - which would come in handy, we're sure.

RIFT are the UK's leading tax rebate and tax return experts, helping people claim back their overpaid tax from HMRC since 1999.