Building After Brexit: An Action Plan for Industry identifies the need for construction to adopt a twin-track strategy: develop a home-grown workforce to reduce reliance on immigrant labour; and keep lobbying government for construction industry exemptions.
The plan has been put together by the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), the Construction Products Association, the Federation of Master Builders, the Home Builders Federation and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), under the leadership of the Construction Leadership Council.
Much like the government's own plans, it has taken two years to produce.
- get older workers to stay in the industry longer
- get young people into the industry (more apprenticeship starts and completions; better work experience opportunities for students and schoolchildren)
- improve productivity with digital technology and offsite/modular construction methods
- reduce the drift of people who undertake training/study in construction trades/disciplines and then go and do something else. Only 26% of people who complete construction further education courses actually enter the industry. The reports recognises that industry salaries might be part of the problem here.
CITB policy director Steve Radley said: “Construction needs a twin-track strategy, increasing investment in the domestic workforce and working with government to agree how we can maintain access to migrant workers to give it the breathing space to adapt to changing rules.
“The latest forecast has revealed over 168,000 new jobs will be created over the next five years and with a likely post-Brexit reduction to the availability of foreign workers, the industry must act now to avoid widening the skills gaps.
“We must do more to attract new talent to the sector and get better at retaining and upskilling the current workforce. Finally, the sector must fully embrace digital skills in order to become more productive and mitigate the widening skills gap.”
CECA chief executive Alasdair Reisner said: "The date for leaving the European Union is rapidly approaching and employers are finding it harder and harder to recruit the right people for their business. Recruitment is already very difficult for some key roles and this will be exacerbated once migration from the EU is reduced post-Brexit.
“We must work together, as an industry and with government to target these gaps; boosting UK-based recruitment and training while looking to sensible migration from the rest of the world to meet demand.”
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, added: “The single biggest issue keeping construction employers awake at night is the skills shortage. If we’re going to address this skills gap post-Brexit, the whole industry needs to step up and expand their training initiatives. Even sole traders can offer short-term work experience placements and large companies should be aiming to ensure at least 5% of their workforce are trainees or apprentices.
“But realistically speaking, the UK construction sector can’t satisfy its thirst for skilled labour via domestic workers alone. With record low levels of unemployment, we’ll always need a significant number of migrant workers too – particularly in London and the southeast. The government needs to work with construction to amend its immigration white paper and rethink the current definition of low-skilled workers. Level 2 tradespeople play a vital role in the sector and would currently be excluded, which is wrong. We urge ministers to engage with the construction industry to help improve these proposals.”