Construction and engineering are losing ground to other business sectors in gaining apprentices in the U.K., according to a new survey of most recent government apprenticeship data. But proponents are hopeful that a new $4.7-billion tax-funded program will fill the growing gap.

U.K. reearch firm Direct Line for Business said in a Dec. 30 report that apprenticeships fostering construction skills dropped to 3.5% of the total of all apprenticeships in 2013-14, compared to its 11.2% share in 2006-07. Engineering dropped to the same proportion, down from 6.3% in 2006-07.

According to a Direct Line for Business spokewoman, a U.K. apprenticeship "is a placement within a company to learn a skill while earning a wage. It is a way for someone to learn on the job as opposed to a formal educational setting." She says someone over age 16 would be eligible for the apprenticeships, which last from one to five years. "They are real jobs, and the training is specifically tailored to ensure you develop skills desirable by the employer." She says that typically, apprentices study concurrently for a National Vocational Qualifications certification.

While the number of actual construction skills apprenticeships dropped only by about 5,000 spots to 15,510 in 2013-14, placements in health care and business administration soared. In the category of "health and social care," apprenticeships increased ten-fold, to 70,080 in the latest data year, for a 16% share of the total, compared to 7,390, or 4% of the total in 2006-07.

Direct Line noted other surveys, claiming that young people had perceptions of construction's pay, working conditions and non-academic focus as deterrents.

Nick Breton, head of Direct Line for Business noted that the government's new apprentice incentive effort could provide engineering and construction a boost in its goal to create 3 million new apprenticeships across the U.K.

"Construction skills are vital to the U.K. economy," he said.