The construction industry has been raised as an issue many times in relation to Brexit, from the labour force, to the housing needs of those travelling to the UK.
The issue of migrant construction workers has recently been raised in Construction Manager Magazine, based on research conducted by CITB. The article opens with the headline figure that one third of construction firms employ migrant workers. The CITB study states that 45% of all non-UK workers in the construction industry came from the EU and that they account for one in fifteen workers in the entire workforce.
Although this figure could be concerning it also highlights a few other perspectives on the issue: That a greater proportion (55%) of non-UK construction workers came from outside the EU, despite the additional visa and immigration issues. This shows that the construction sector is still able to access a talent pool of skilled workers without freedom of movement. The article also highlights that the largest proportion (22%) of workers are general labourers, which is strange when considering the narrative of the debate in the construction industry has been based on skilled workers, yet the largest proportion of migrant workers are in an unskilled section of the construction industry.
However, Theresa May has recently announced that EU migrants who have lived in the UK for five years continuously will be granted settled status. This allays some of the concerns of an exodus of workers when the Brexit negotiations conclude. There is also a visa that covers such eventualities, the Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List, lists occupations where there is a shortage of skilled workers and allows for the recruitment of workers outside of the EU, which would not be unreasonable to expect if as part of the Brexit negotiations, freedom of movement is restricted.
In addition to these different mechanisms and assurances for the construction industry, companies are able to incentivise, train or re-train people seeking employment or members of the existing workforce. With a current UK unemployment rate of 4.6% and youth employment (16-24) at roughly 10% (February-April 2017) there are many eligible candidates to enter the industry.
Though there are valid concerns regarding the supply of skilled labour following Brexit it has been highlighted that there are many opportunities and safeguards to prevent this from becoming an issue. It will depend on a pro-active approach by construction companies planning for the future and implementing policies to ensure that they can attract, retain and train employees for the future operations of their companies.
This article was written by Laurence Swain, Account Executive at MPC.