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Could ‘Brexit’ Dog UK Construction?

Monday, June 27, 2016

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Some in the British construction industry are worried that the pending exit of the U.K. from the European Union could exacerbate a shortage of skilled workers that’s already affecting the country.

London construction site
By Kleon3, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“The UK construction industry has been heavily reliant on migrant workers from Europe for decades now," according to the Federation of Master Builders.

The Federation of Master Builders, which bills itself as the largest trade association in the U.K., issued a statement Friday after the results of the so-called “Brexit” referendum revealed that a majority of voters had elected to have the nation withdraw from the EU.

'Heavily Reliant on Migrant Workers'

“The UK construction industry has been heavily reliant on migrant workers from Europe for decades now—at present, 12% of the British construction workers are of non-UK origin,” FMB chief executive Brian Berry said in the statement.

“The majority of these workers are from EU countries such as Poland, Romania and Lithuania and they have helped the construction industry bounce back from the economic downturn when 400,000 skilled workers left our industry, most of which did not return.

Brexit
By Bob Harvey, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brexit proponents campaigned on a platform that included the idea of a points-based system aimed at limiting the numbers of, and controlling the characteristics of, immigrants coming into the country.

“It is now the Government’s responsibility to ensure that the free-flowing tap of migrant workers from Europe is not turned off. If Ministers want to meet their house building and infrastructure objectives, they have to ensure that the new system of immigration is responsive to the needs of industry.”

Berry noted that the country and industry need to also concentrate on training homegrown talent with well-funded apprenticeship training.

Brexit and Immigration

The practical effect of Brexit on immigration in Britain is yet to be seen: The vote itself revealed only that the nation wanted to leave the EU, not precisely how policies would change when it does. But Brexit proponents campaigned on a platform that included the idea of a points-based system aimed at limiting the numbers of, and controlling the characteristics of, immigrants coming into the country.

Brexit supporters argue that EU rules have biased the system against non-EU immigrants, turning away skilled workers from other parts of the world; the points-based system, they say, would allow the country to encourage immigrants who best suit the country's needs.

The U.K. has been experiencing a crisis of skilled labor in the construction industry. A report issued earlier this month by trade group Build U.K. notes that “labour supply remains a concern, with contractors reporting widespread difficulties in recruiting supervisors, managerial, professional and technical staff along with bricklayers and cladders.”

Chart on immigrants in the U.K. workforce
Office for National Statistics

According to the most recent Office for National Statistics labor report, in the year between March 2015 and March 2016, the number of EU nationals in the workforce rose by more than 200,000.

Across the board (not just in construction) in the past few years, the number of EU nationals in the U.K. labor market has risen dramatically. According to the most recent Office for National Statistics labor report, in the year between March 2015 and March 2016, the number of EU nationals in the workforce rose by more than 200,000, to about 2.15 million. The number of foreign nationals from non-EU countries stayed about the same, at 1.19 million.

'Migration is Necessary'

In a report issued in 2015, the Chartered Institute on Building (CIOB), a society for construction industry managers and leaders, wrote that “migration is necessary to construction. It dampens the harmful effects of having a volatile labour market. Tight regulation of migration would damage construction activity in the U.K.”

The CIOB report cites census data and Labor Force Survey results that suggest that in the past 15 years, the percentage of non-U.K.-born workers in the U.K. construction industry has risen from about 5 percent to somewhere around 10 percent.

“The workforce needed for major or highly-specialized projects is seldom met by the local labour market,” the report states. “This means the industry needs a highly flexible, in part itinerant, workforce to call on.”

   

Tagged categories: Government; Labor; Politics; Workers

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