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Hard Brexit will cut deeper into construction skills shortage – Ward

by: Tony Ward, CEO and president of Clayton Euro Risk
  • 15/03/2017
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Hard Brexit will cut deeper into construction skills shortage – Ward
The UK's construction industry must hire more than 400,000 workers each year for the next five years to build enough homes to meet demand, according to construction consultancy Arcadis.

That means one new construction worker must be recruited every 77 seconds until 2021. No small feat.

This, says Arcadis, is due to ever-increasing demands for building homes, as well as a workforce that is shrinking due to demographics, with not enough new recruits replacing those who are leaving.

It calculated that if the UK increases the number of homes it builds every year to 270,000 – which is higher than the government’s target of 200,000 yet below what some experts think is necessary to ease the housing crisis – more than 370,000 new workers must be employed.

The report also warned that if new recruits are not added to the workforce the cost of building will shoot up. Carpenters and joiners are most in demand, followed by plumbers, electricians, and bricklayers.

This seems like a mountain to climb. Countless skilled tradesmen, such as bricklayers, have not returned to the trade after being laid off during the recession, while fewer young people are entering construction.

 

Brexit bites

Most importantly, this does not take into account any impact of lower immigration as a result of leaving the European Union.

Arcadis found that if there is a hard Brexit (such as the extension of the points-based immigration system currently in place for non-EU migrants) then 215,000 fewer people from the EU will join the UK’s construction industry by 2020.

That’s going to hurt. One in eight construction workers in the UK comes from overseas; in London that figure is almost one in four.

Crest Nicholson’s chief executive Stephen Stone has already pleaded for the government to treat EU migrants working in construction as skilled workers once Brexit negotiations get under way. If Arcadis’s findings are correct, isn’t it even more crucial that we protect these workers otherwise the supply-demand gap on housing will widen and exacerbate the crisis.

 

Papering over cracks

Proposals made in the government Housing White Paper are just sticking plasters over cracks; the real issues lie outside of the paper’s recommendations.

For example, in relation to housebuilding, the proposed curbs on immigration would cut deep. How are we ever going to achieve the government’s target of building one million homes by 2020?

James Bryce, director of workforce planning at Arcadis, 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% 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.”

 

All very worrying.

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