​We need a new way of thinking about trade apprenticeships - Susan Dalgety

A young apprentice painter in professional trainingA young apprentice painter in professional training
A young apprentice painter in professional training
​It comes as no surprise that Edinburgh is one of the most expensive cities in the UK for tradespeople. I have been refurbishing my tenement flat for nearly two years now, and my bank balance is suffering.

I am lucky – my sons both work in construction so I have access to a network of fabulous electricians, joiners, plumbers and stonemasons.

And my husband, who didn’t inherit his dad’s DIY skills, has become a very tidy, if a tad slow, painter of uneven walls. Even so, the cost of fixing our flat, which had been sadly neglected for years before we moved in, has taken a big bite out of our savings.

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That said, I watched in awe as our joiner created a pantry cupboard for me, turning the old alcove shelving in our kitchen into something practical and beautiful.

He was able to take my Sharpie scribbles and transform them into a hidey hole for everything from my stockpile of mushy peas to my collection of tea towels. He is worth every penny.

A report in this newspaper last week revealed that it costs an average of £31.13 an hour to hire a tradesman in the Capital. Mind you, compared to Glasgow our trades are a bargain – it topped the list with an hourly rate of £50. Even London is cheaper at £41.31.

I am sure the survey raised a few eyebrows across the breakfast table in some of our more leafy suburbs.

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Tradespeople are not highly regarded in our society, often dismissed as uncouth ‘white van men’. Nowhere is that more obvious than in career choices.

Learning a trade is seen as a second-rate ambition for a teenager. Far better to aspire to a university degree – in any subject – than sign up for a four-year apprenticeship in stonemasonry.

Yet what is more useful? A degree in “Celtic and Scandinavian Studies” – currently on offer at Edinburgh University – or a City & Guilds certificate in electrical installation?

I am not for one minute arguing against a university education, but I do get frustrated at those parents who throw their hands up in horror at the thought of their Lily or Jack learning how to be a plasterer.

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There is a shortage of skilled tradespeople across Scotland. The UK Trade Skills Index 2023 reveals that Scotland’s construction and trades industry needs 31,000 new recruits over the next decade to meet demand.

The sector’s profile is ageing, with more than 35 per cent of the workforce aged over 50.

The answer, of course, is more young people, yet recent analysis by HR specialists the CIPD shows that the number of apprenticeship starts in Scotland – in every sector – had fallen by 28 per cent since 2015/16.

In a city like Edinburgh, construction workers are vital. They repair our past. The stonemasons we hired performed a miracle on our crumbling sandstone lintels.

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And they build our future. Edinburgh is experiencing a housing emergency which we will not recover from if there are not enough skilled workers to construct the new homes so desperately needed.

So while £30 an hour may seem a lot for a joiner, compared to £600 a day for financial services project manager, it is a veritable bargain

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