Government policy change needed to secure the future of UK construction
Our recent research into business immigration revealed that a third of businesses have seen a drop in EU migrants looking for employment in the UK, since Article 50 was triggered.
The real estate and construction sectors in particular are feeling the loss, with 26 percent of businesses having recruited fewer EU workers since March 2017. This trend is likely to continue, which is unfortunate news, as eight percent of the sector’s workforce consists of EU-born workers and a skills gap already exists.
The UK needs available workers
A survey conducted by Biosite found that 71 percent of construction companies would struggle without EU workers. This is a worrying figure, which highlights the need for new sources of workers to be found and for construction companies to retain current talent, where possible.
For the UK’s development plans to be successful, the country needs available workers. However, the fact that immigration has dominated the Brexit discussion puts these plans at risk, as EU workers assess whether they want to, or can, stay and work in the UK.
The immigration white paper
Last December, the Government’s immigration white paper proposed a single immigration strategy to be put in place from 2021. This proposal signaled an end to the right of EU nationals to work freely in the UK, meaning they would have to apply for a work visa and meet other conditions, such as a minimum income threshold salary. In recent times, the construction sector has wanted more flexibility around entry into the industry, but this proposal could clearly have the opposite effect.
The majority of future migrants will need to be sponsored by an employer to work in the UK. Additionally, ‘low skilled’ workers would be restricted to a one-year visa, limiting the longevity of their employment and causing further resource issues for the construction industry.
To create a sustainable future for the construction sector, the Government would need to make special dispensations – a decision that would certainly be welcomed.
Construction companies must assess how reliant their business is on EU labour. This way, to avoid disruption, they can consider the strategies, budgets and timescales necessary for either recruiting, or retaining their talent.
To stay compliant with the subsequent immigration changes, employers must familiarise themselves with their employment profiles and understand who works for them, where they are from and what their immigration status is.
Employers need to support their workers to ensure they – and those in their supply chains – register under the Government’s new settled status scheme. Worker retention is key, and only by supporting staff through these applications can some level of certainty be guaranteed.
Construction companies must provide more training for their UK employees. Many migrant workers already hold an NVQ Level 2-equivalent qualification, which is a standard deemed ‘work-ready’, whereas UK workers complete apprenticeships on the job. Improvements need to be made around domestic training, so UK workers meet the Europe-wide standard faster.
Investing in technology
To lessen the impact of the looming skills gulf, the industry should focus on investing in, and developing, new construction methods and technology, for example, MMC (offsite construction). This has the potential to lessen the pressure on construction companies to hire more staff, increasing the breathing room while the new immigration regime is introduced.
The Brexit extension may be frustrating to some, but for those who have not budgeted for post-Brexit immigration, it could be a real lifeline. Construction companies must start planning for the impacts now to avoid a dramatic loss of talent in the future.