In an unusual show of unity, seven of the construction industry’s major trade bodies have set out what they believe to be the sector’s responsibilities and requirements in a post-Brexit labour market.
The Construction Industry Brexit Manifesto commits the sector to doing much more to recruit and train additional UK workers to reduce its future reliance on migrant labour. However, it makes clear that this will not be able to happen overnight and that, for some time, there will likely remain an ongoing need for significant levels of skilled EU workers.
The document sets down the industry’s key messages to the government on what it will need from a post-Brexit immigration system in order to be able to deliver the government’s strategic objectives for new housing and infrastructure.
It makes 12 recommendations to the government and industry:
1) The government should embark upon a communications campaign that makes clear to EU workers currently residing in the UK that they will have no serious impediments to gaining settled status.
2) Industry bodies and construction employers should work with the government to put this message across more clearly to their members and their existing EU-national employees.
3) The government should at the earliest possible opportunity state that the cut-off date, after which those arriving can no longer have expectation of guaranteed settled status, will be the later date of the UK’s actual withdrawal from the EU, not the date on which Article 50 was triggered.
4) Industry bodies should continue to work with CITB to conduct a construction industry-wide census and other research that provides a clear evidence base regarding skills requirements and future training needs, now and in the longer term.
5) The government should agree a transition period of at least two years as soon as possible.
6) The government should introduce a transitional regime that involves a clear path to settled status for those arriving during this period to ensure that EU workers continue to be attracted to the UK to live and work. Industries with a current reliance on immigrant workers should not face a ‘cliff edge’ in terms of incoming migrant workers.
7) The construction sector should agree what it can realistically achieve in terms of increased training and recruitment of home-grown workers over the next five years based on the industry-wide census.
8) Any future migration visa system should be based on key occupations that are in short supply rather than on arbitrary thresholds based on skill levels or income.
9) The government should ensure that for those taking up these visas the terms of their stay in the UK are attractive enough and of sufficient length to ensure that such quotas can actually be met – this will likely mean a longer visa period than two years and include the possibility of settled status.
10) The government should take into account the centrality of self-employment models within the construction industry and the importance of self-employment in allowing migrant workers to access the construction labour market (half of all EU workers are self-employed).
11) The government should introduce a post-Brexit immigration system that takes into account that the vast majority of the construction workforce are employed by small and micro firms and that asking these firms to sponsor foreign workers, or engage with the current Tier 2 system for non-EU workers, is not realistic and will simply not work for this industry. It probably is not realistic for larger firms either given the extent of self-employment in the industry.
12) In order to create a more flexible regime that can work for industries like construction with a prevalence of small employees and self-employment, government should ensure that registered employment agencies, or migrant workers themselves, are able to apply for occupation-based visas and the government should allow and encourage the market to develop new intermediary mechanisms.
The manifesto comes with the support of seven major construction trade bodies: Federation of Master Builders, Association for Consultancy & Engineering, Build UK, Civil Engineering Contractors Association, Construction Products Association, Home Builders Federation, and National Federation of Builders
Build UK chief executive Suzannah Nichol said: “Construction, like other major industry sectors, has substantial concerns over the impact of Brexit on its ability to recruit, train and retain talent. It is essential that industry works together to present the need for an effective partnership between government and industry, enabling us to deliver the UK's infrastructure, homes and communities."
Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry said: “The construction industry has been criticised in the past for being too disparate but it has come together here with one voice and set of clear messages. We know we need to step up as an industry and train more home-grown talent but we also have to be realistic about the future. There will continue to be some ongoing need for migrant workers and our post-Brexit migration rules will need to be fit for purpose.”
National Federation of Builders chief executive Richard Beresford said: “With the country facing a shortage of skilled workers and the most acute housing crisis in living memory, the government needs to provide certainty to existing EU workers in the UK and enable construction SMEs to attract more home-grown talent into the industry.”
Association for Consultancy & Engineering chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin said: “Without the skills that many EU nationals bring to the industry, we could be facing severe setbacks to the UK’s national infrastructure pipeline. ACE’s own surveys show that there is an increase in the number EU staff leaving the UK for jobs on the continent and this will only get worse if we do not bring certainty to EU workers’ residency rights. This manifesto provides a road map for both government and industry to ensure that the UK can continue to access world class talent to deliver world class construction.”
Marie-Claude Hemming, director of external affairs at the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, said: “The UK’s decision to leave the EU will have a notable impact upon the ability of the infrastructure sector to source the skills needed for current and future projects. But if we are to ensure that the UK remains an attractive place to live and work in a post Brexit world, government must maintain its focus on construction and infrastructure. To this end industry has joined together to publish a skills manifesto which we believe will enable our sector to continue to drive future economic growth. It is vital that industry and government work together to ensure the UK’s global competitiveness is not impacted upon by delay in the delivery of world-class construction projects.”
Construction Products Association economics director Noble Francis said: “Access to the right skills will be absolutely critical for the whole construction supply chain in the next few years if it is to help government achieve its aims of building more affordable housing and improving the UK’s infrastructure, which will be vital for boosting UK productivity.”
Home Builders Federation director of external affairs John Slaughter said: “With the budget having confirmed a target to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, home builders will need to continue to bring more skilled people into the industry. Companies are building on their existing investment through the successful work of the CITB-supported Home Building Skills Partnership and are committed to doing even more, but to deliver the national social and economic necessity of an improved housing supply we will also continue to need access to foreign workers under a manageable migration system.”