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Wed November 29 2023

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MAC turns deaf ear to construction skills shortages

30 May 19 Overseas architects and civil engineers can expect special treatment from the UK immigration system but not quantity surveyors, construction project managers or skilled trades.

Bricklayers miss the cut for the Shortage Occupation List
Bricklayers miss the cut for the Shortage Occupation List

The government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published its recommendations on which occupations are in shortage in the UK, and therefore should have easier access to the international talent pool.

But despite construction industry representations, its lobbying has largely failed. Civil engineers (but not environmental professional) and architects (but not chartered architectural technologists) are on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL), but that’s it from the construction sector.

Of quantity surveyors, the report says: “Despite ranking highly in our shortage indicators and having an above average vacancy rate, there was insufficient stakeholder evidence to suggest a shortage in the occupation.”

Of construction project managers, the report says: “Despite the occupation having a high ranking (12th), and an average vacancy rate, there was insufficient stakeholder evidence that this occupation was in shortage.”

There report considers the case for skilled trades, noting ‘severe shortages’ of bricklayers, but does not recommend any being added to the SOL.

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It does say, however: “Overall, given the very significant reliance on EEA workers in some parts of the construction industry, increasing vacancy rates and the importance of the sector to the UKs infrastructure plans and industrial strategy, construction occupations will require careful consideration in a future immigration system.”

MAC chair Alan Manning explained in his foreword: “This is the first full review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has been asked to conduct since 2013. Being on the SOL conveys certain advantages – not having to conduct a resident labour market test (RLMT), exemption from the £35,000 minimum income threshold for settlement, lower visa fees and priority in the event the cap binds. To be placed on the SOL, a job must meet three requirements: skilled (are the jobs skilled to the required level?), shortage (is the job in shortage?), and sensible (is it sensible to try to fill those shortages through migration?). Using these criteria our recommendation is to expand the SOL to cover a wider range of occupations in health, information technology and other STEM fields and to simplify the eligibility criteria where possible. Our recommendations imply an expansion of the SOL from about 1% of total employment to around 9%.”

Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry said of the report: “We are pleased to see the Migration Advisory Committee’s recognition of the vital importance of the UK construction industry, the high numbers of EU workers in this sector and the increasing struggle of construction employers to find skilled workers. However, it is shocking how few construction roles were recommended to be added to the Shortage Occupation List, due to not meeting the arbitrary definition of skill level.

“With 64% of construction SMEs struggling to find bricklayers and 59% not being able to find quality carpenters, skill shortages continue to plague the industry. The government should now act on the MAC’s advice and acknowledge these shortage areas in the future immigration system. If it does not, our shared ambition to address the housing shortage will not be possible.”

The Migration Advisory Committee’s May 2019 report, Full review of the Shortage Occupation List, is available as a pdf by clicking here.

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