Can special visas solve the construction skills shortage?

Construction workers visa Ellis Fox Blog

When the new points system for work visas was announced most Brits thought it was a good idea, until industries start to point out that the very people being disqualified by the system were central to the economy. Now a few years down the line the UK is battling with a lack of drivers, construction workers and more. The visa points system isn’t wholly to blame, but combined with Brexit and the pandemic it certainly hasn’t helped the situation.

For more than a year now the UK government has been promoting the idea that construction and the development of infrastructure will spearhead economic recovery. Significant amounts of funding have been promised and a new infrastructure bank was set up to channel funding into the development of green infrastructure. All of these are positives, except there are not enough people to actually do the work. That combined with materials shortages and ongoing disruptions and uncertainties due to the pandemic are taking away a bit of the shine that construction would lead recovery.

London mayor Sadiq Khan is now leading a call to create a special exemption to the work visa conditions for construction workers. It’s ironic that this is similar to the exemption that construction leaders called for even before the new visa regulations were implemented. It’s somewhat frustrating that the exact fallout predicted has to actually happen before government will admit they were wrong and consider doing something about it. In the meantime the construction industry is having to bear the brunt of short sighted decision making.

So the question remains. If the visa exception is granted for construction workers, will EU workers come flooding back to UK shores? Will the industry be able to attract enough people to fill the skills gap so that construction projects can move forward?

While this move would be welcomed, it might be too little too late. Many workers already had their lives uprooted when they were forced to return to their country of origin. There’s no promise that the UK government won’t change their minds again in a few month’s or years’ time and that happens all over again. What will attract the skills needed? What can construction firms do to reassure candidates that there’s a future in UK construction? It has to be about more than promises and even money. What’s on offer that’ll make it worth it?