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Will the UK construction workforce be negatively affected after Brexit?

There is growing concern that the UK construction industry will be severely and negatively affected after Brexit.

According to a report published by progressive policy think tank IPPR, EU migrants have been instrumental in minimising a construction labour shortage, and the elimination of any freedom of movement would have negative consequences. 

Housebuilders throughout the UK are requesting a dedicated post-Brexit permit or visa system to allow foreign construction workers to help with the housing crisis and enable the construction sector to meet government housebuilding demands. They warn that failure to allow some sort of system will result in even more of a construction labour shortage. 

According to a Home Builders Federation survey, over one in five construction workers on residential projects in the Southeast was from abroad. Nearly 20% of workers involved in housebuilding throughout the country are ‘non-UK’. In London, over half of all construction professionals are from overseas. 

During the last four years, the UK housebuilding industry has used this blend of British and overseas workers to produce approximately 217,000 new homes. In the autumn Budget, the Chancellor declared his plan to average 300,000 new homes a year by the middle of the next decade. 

Federation spokesman Steve Turner said that these facts and figures prove that housebuilding should be treated as a special situation, as it is clearly reliant on labour from the EU. Although the industry has invested resources in training young people, access to overseas labour remains essential. 

The IPPR report echoes the Federation results. It shows that the construction industry is especially vulnerable to migration policy changes. A growing skills shortage is already limiting the UK’s ability to build new homes, and construction has one of the highest skills shortage levels of any industry.  

Structural Defects Insurance

Despite the shortage, construction industry employers have not trained a sufficient number of workers: the number of employers providing training in the field is the second lowest of any industry in the UK. Recent changes to the apprenticeship system may cause construction apprenticeship levels to decline at a time when a huge increase is needed. 

The report additionally shows that construction productivity has been stagnating. For the last 20 years, it has been growing at a fraction of the rate of the rest of the economy. The construction industry has not embraced the modern technologies that could increase productivity, and it accounts for only 0.4% of research and development investment. To make matters worse, a million construction workers (two in five of the present workforce) are due to retire within the next 20 years. 

EU migrants have been filling the skills gaps. Between 2003 and 2016 there was a five-fold increase in the number of EU workers in the construction field. The IPPR is therefore recommending that the UK government guarantee the right of existing EU workers to maintain employment in Britain and ensure that construction firms have access to these employees for a transitionary phase of at least five years so that the industry can boost productivity and training at home. 

Specialists in Construction Insurance


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