Construction consultancy firm, Arcadis, says that the UK construction industry must recruit more than 400,000 workers every year for the next five years, the equivalent of hiring one new construction worker every 77 seconds until 2021. According to Arcadis, the UK construction sector won’t have enough workers to cope with the demand for housing.
Arcadis calculated that, should the UK increase the number of homes it builds every year to 270,000, which exceeds the current Government target of 200,000, more than 370,000 workers would be needed to meet demand.
A report published by the consultancy firm further warned that if the workforce is not supplemented with new hires, the cost of construction will rise sharply. Carpenters and joiners top the ‘most-wanted’ list, closely followed by bricklayers, electricians and plumbers.
However, Arcadis’ calculations do not factor in the potential impact of lower UK immigration numbers once ‘Brexit’ takes place. The consultancy firm fears that a ‘hard Brexit’, which could see the Tier 2 visa and Tier 2 Sponsorship Licence system extended to include European residents as well as non-European citizens, could stifle the number of EU migrants joining UK construction firms. Unfortunately, the Tier 2 Visa scheme which is usually for professional and management level jobs cannot in reality be used for many construction related jobs.
Arcadis states that the construction sector in Britain must have foreign workers; they estimate that bringing EU workers under the restrictive Tier 2 visa scheme in future could result in 215,000 fewer EU workers joining the construction industry by 2020. Currently, 1 in 8 UK construction workers are foreign. In London, 23 percent of workers are from overseas.
Fewer Immigrants means a Skills gulf
Director of workforce planning at Arcadis, James Bryce, said: “What we have is not a skills gap; it is a skills gulf. Systemic under-investment in the nation’s workforce has contributed to a reduction in UK productivity.”
“Construction employment is already down 15 percent on 2008 and, quite simply, if we don’t have the right people to build the homes and infrastructure we need, the UK is going to struggle to maintain its competitive position in the global economy,” Mr Bryce added.
Bryce’s comments reflect the findings of a Government report undertaken by Mark Farmer in 2016. The report, titled ‘Modernise or Die’, warned of a chronic skills shortage that would have to be resolved by embracing the offsite manufacturing of homes.
Farmer claimed that the construction industry’s workforce would deteriorate by 20-25 percent during the next decade.
Industry insiders say that a lack of investment in training British workers, tighter UK immigration controls restricting the hiring of foreign workers and more workers leaving the sector are all contributing factors to the chronic skills shortage plaguing the British construction industry. Some fear the sector is in danger of collapse.
UK Visas will give Construction sector ‘whatever it needs’
In September 2016 Conservative minister, Sajid Javid, declared that ‘new border controls would not stand in the way of a surge in house building.’
According to an article published in the Financial Times (FT), Javid - the secretary of state for communities and local government - stated that any new immigration system for EU workers such as “work visas” would be designed to ensure that “the building sector gets whatever it needs to meet the demand for homes.”
The FT report cited that Javid ‘would need foreign workers to achieve his targets.’ However, construction industry insiders are concerned that their ability to recruit workers from the EU and beyond will only get tougher as the Government seeks to cut UK immigration numbers.
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