Construction workforce Ellis Fox Blog

Let’s do more work with less workers?!

On the back of Brexit there have been many ambitious promises made. Promises for better infrastructure, promises for facilitating a transition to clean energy, promises to deliver affordable housing and public facilities such as hospitals. Not to mention the controversial go-ahead for HS2.

All of these have one thing in common: A promise to build a stronger Britain that will serve its citizens better. From this perspective these are all seen as positives. And then the government proposes an immigration bill to limit EU migrant workers.

How does the UK plan to deliver infrastructure projects with a diminished workforce?

The proposed new bill regarding immigration to the UK is set to have a major impact on EU migrant workers that fill important roles within the construction and infrastructure sectors. It is estimated that currently the construction industry employs 180 000 EU nationals in various roles. These are tradesmen, artisans, plumbers, engineers, steelworkers, drivers, maintenance mechanics, and workers involved in laying roads and rail. What will happen to all these roles if the EU workers currently filling them are unable to remain in the UK?  Never mind the grand promises of expansion in the future, the industry won’t even be able to fulfill the demands of now.

In an ideal world this will create more job opportunities for locals, but the reality is that the local labour force cannot fill the gap. There are not enough skilled people, and many people don’t have the inclination or interest in working in trade related roles. The younger generation in particular would much rather be involved in digital technology.

So where does this leave main contractors who either employ or sub-contract out work to EU migrant workers? What measures could construction managers put in place now to ensure that they have the skilled workforce they need in order to deliver on contracts in the future? Nobody seems to have clear answers.

Certainly implementing a more effective training and apprenticeship programme could start to generate skilled workers, but it’ll be years before they can operate at the same level of proficiency as workers currently employed.

Some suggest that government needs to collaborate with industry to clearly identify sectors and professions where skills shortages exist and factor this into the entry requirements for the new immigration bill. Are there workable solutions? And can they be implemented quickly enough?