Chartered Institute of Building Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Building

Historic buildings in the UK at risk from skills shortage

The lack of people taking up key building preservation careers could hamper the British public’s desire to see more historic buildings saved for the future, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has warned.

The body said a survey it commissioned found 89% of Britons believe it is important to preserve historic buildings. However, despite the public’s passion for historic buildings, the majority don’t understand the specialist skills needed to preserve them, at a time when the entire construction industry is facing a skills shortage

The RICS said the YouGov survey had revealed that 83% of respondents did not know what a historic building surveyor did, while 80% did not know what a thatcher’s job entailed.

The survey found that understanding of core craft roles was even lower among 18-24 year-olds, with 90% unable to describe the job of a stonemason, and 84% unsure of a glassblower’s work.

42% said the responsibility to invest and maintain historic structures lies with the government.

According to the survey, 91% agreed that buildings such as Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace are symbols of the country’s heritage. This sentiment is strong across all age groups with 89% of 18-to-24-year-olds appreciating the importance of historic buildings.

RICS is calling on the government and industry bodies to continue to concentrate their efforts on inspiring young people to pursue a career in the sector and educate them on the importance of mastering and maintaining the skills needed to preserve historic buildings.

RICS managing director, Matthew Howell said the findings came at a time when the built environment sector was in the midst of a skills shortage with the proportion of professionals reporting a skills gap in the construction sector increasing from 2% in 2012 to 43% last year.

“It’s fantastic to see that so many people care about our historic buildings, especially young people,” he said. “However, without a pipeline of talent developing expertise in these specialist areas, landmarks could be left in ruin.”


The FIS has a Heritage Plastering group that represents companies who design, install and restore fibrous plaster ceilings. Their staff have high levels of traditional craft skills but also use BIM and 3D printing in the trade. What appears on the face of it to be a traditional old school trade is in fact a modern vibrant sector that embraces the skills of the past with new skills needed to carry out work in our historic buildings and all over the world.

  • 13th Apr 2017, at 01:36 PM
  • David Frise

Surely as part of the survey why does people having a lack of understanding of a core craft determine whether the person will take that as a career choice resulting in a skills shortage ?? and i quote 'The survey found that understanding of core craft roles was even lower among 18-24 year-olds, with 90% unable to describe the job of a stonemason, and 84% unsure of a glassblower’s work.'

I started in this industry as a welder fabricator apprentice now i am a chartered H & S practitioner in the construction industry nobody told me what a H & S profession was when i was 14 from the careers officer.

  • 13th Apr 2017, at 02:55 PM
  • karl

Dear Mathew,
I founded (approx 4 years ago) Heritage Skills Training Academy (charity)
I have tried to get the same off the ground via Lottery funding, with bid writers from Knowsley council etc.
With all the rot occurring to heritage buildings in and around the North West is no one concerned about lost skills or training?

  • 13th Apr 2017, at 06:17 PM
  • Mike Lea MRICS

We at The Age Positive Community are very supportive of this article. We are currently building a Database of Artisans and invite registration from any sector of the Heritage Skills cadre.
Let's Share Experience.....that way these essential and iconic skills will flourish once again

  • 13th Apr 2017, at 11:37 PM
  • Victor Cooper

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