New data reveals that young people are increasingly pursuing health and safety qualifications, but the skills gap could still undermine this progress, according to leading health and safety experts, RRC International.

Over the last five years, the proportion of students under 25 studying general health and safety courses has increased year-on-year. Young people now account for 6% of RRC’s students, up from 1% in 2019.

Likewise, the next age-bracket, 26-35 year-olds, now account for nearly a third of those taking a course with RRC (29%), up from a fifth (21%) in 2019.

Richard Stockley, Managing Director of RRC, highlights that policy and education have significantly improved workplace safety in the UK over the past 50 years. Since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974, there has been a steady decline in non-fatal injuries, even in high-risk sectors like construction.

Each new generation entering the workforce has been the safest ever, supported by data showing millennials and Gen Z are pursuing more safety qualifications than their predecessors. However, despite growing interest in health and safety among young people, future workplaces may become less safe for Gen Alpha if the current skills gap is not addressed.

UK industry has been suffering from a growing skills shortage for decades. The construction industry, for example, is estimated to have a shortfall of 225,000 workers by 2027.

Richard Stockley commented:

A lack of skilled workers in industries that deal with hazardous materials, heavy loads and machinery, automatically presents a health and safety risk. If a job calls for the use of a forklift, but there is a lack of experience among staff, the risk of accident and injury increases. Likewise, compliance is much harder, because the skills shortage also affects supervisory roles.

Richard Stockley, Managing Director of RRC

HSE data indicates that the impact of the skills shortage may already be affecting workplace safety, with the rate of non-fatal injuries per 100,000 workers in the UK having risen between 2020/21 and 2021/22 from 185 to 225 for the first time since 2003.

The same was true for non-fatal injuries in construction, rising between the same years from 260 to 329. While this is not a particularly dramatic rise, the fact that it is the first in nearly two decades is notable.

Worryingly, a recent survey commissioned by Deconstruction found that 77% of 18-24 year-olds stated that they would not consider a career within the construction industry, with no less than a quarter perceiving it as unsafe.

Young people appear to care more and more about health and safety, but the skills shortage threatens the safety of work, especially in higher-risk industries like construction. The danger here is a potentially compounding effect, where health and safety-conscious young people become less and less likely to pursue careers in construction, exacerbating the skills shortage even further.

Stockley concludes:

The solution is not obvious, the skills gap is an ongoing problem that is incredibly difficult to address. That said, perhaps policy and enthusiasm can help keep construction and sectors like it safe. Gen Alpha could have the safest working environment ever thanks to an ever more stringent health and safety culture in the UK, made possible by the increasing proportion of young people embarking on health and safety careers.

Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.