Construction industry fears grow over 'Brexodus'

Fears continue to grow over the availability of skilled construction workers in the UK, as a new study has suggests 25 per cent of London’s construction workforce comes from the EU.

Architect drawing up plans
More than a quarter of the construction workforce in London come from other European Union nations, according to an analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

How wide is the UK’s construction skills gap?

However, Berkeley, the capital’s largest house builders, believes that even the official data, based on 2016 statistics, underestimates the size of the EU27 workforce and puts the figure in excess of 50 per cent.The figures have renewed fears in the industry over the future skills pool, not just because of the likelihood of an exodus of EU workers because of Brexit and an end to the freedom of movement, but also because of an increasingly aged indigenous workforce.Drawn up at the behest of the Home Office, the ONS data will form part of the considerations of the government-appointed Migration Advisory Committee, which will report in September on the economic implications of Brexit.The ONS said, “In London, 28 per cent of construction workers are EU27 nationals and seven per cent are non-EU nationals. This compares to 13 per cent who are EU27 nationals and 10 per cent non-EU nationals for all other industries in London, excluding construction.”Across the UK as a whole, some seven per cent of the 2.2 million people employed in construction are estimated to come from the EU and three per cent from non-EU countries.The report flagged up concerns about the ageing indigenous workforce, pointing out that almost half are now aged over 45, whereas the majority of EU27 workers were considerably younger.
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Brexit and the construction sector

Berkeley said in a statement, “Looking forward, we remain concerned that the impact of recognised skills gap in the UK construction workforce may become more pronounced as the UK exits the European Union. “While this is hard to predict, it is a fact that over half of London’s site labour comes from the EU. “This needs to be addressed by a combination of continued access to EU labour, skills training and innovation in construction if the industry is to achieve its medium term production aspirations.”The ONS said that, of the 165,000 EU27 nationals in construction, just under half came from the so-called EU8 nations that joined the bloc in 2004 – Poland, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia and Latvia – while 29 per cent were Romanian or Bulgarian, 10 per cent were Irish and 11 per cent from the 14 longer-term EU states.Unlike Berkeley’s estimate, which was based on an estimate of workers in house and commercial building, the ONS figures also included those involved in infrastructure construction and specialised fields such as demolition.Some 41 per cent of construction workers were self-employed between 2014 and 2016, while a third of resident non-UK nationals were involved in “general labour”.

The UK’s housing industry

Manny Aparicio, head of project management at property consultancy, Naismiths warned the report made it clear the UK housing industry could soon be facing a recruitment crisis.“The youngest blood in UK construction is currently the non-UK nationals but if Brexit makes the UK a less attractive place to work then that demographic could disappear at the same time as the older UK hands retire,” he said.“It’s a double whammy. If Brexit does make it harder for overseas workers to take up jobs in construction, due to increased red tape and potential costs, the construction industry will suffer.“Also, we have an ageing workforce of UK construction workers that is simply not being replenished at the required rate. Once a significant percentage of UK construction workers retire, and that day is fast approaching, the sector will struggle.”Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory