Up to 46% of skilled EU workers have left the UK for their country of origin, posing a new challenge to the country’s fledgling construction sector.
According to a new research released this month by The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, a total of 113,000 skilled construction workers were engaged in the construction and building trade in 2019.
Comparison with previous ONS data indicates that the number of skilled EU workers in England has dropped from 208,000 to 113,000 (46%) over the last few years.
Construction Sector Set to Face ‘Major Delays’
The exodus of skilled construction workers has caused an alarming situation for the construction sector which was already behind on meeting the demand for affordable housing due to disruptions caused by pandemic and the successive lockdowns that followed.
According to Jason Tema, director of property development firm Clearview Developments, the exodus of skilled EU citizens may marginally unlock new job opportunities in UK for some British workers but there are bound to be ‘severe staff shortages’ across the construction sector.
“As a result, project completions could face major delays,” Tema warned. “It’s yet another hurdle for the UK’s construction sector to overcome at a time when the industry is already behind target to build new private market as well as affordable homes,” he added.
Why is This Happening?
There are two main reasons why such a large percentage of skilled EU citzens in UK’s construction sector are leaving: all that happened after Brexit and the disruption created by COVID-19. While the latter was an unexpected and unforeseen disruption, the effects of the former had already been anticipated by construction industry experts.
Take, for example, a previous Migration and Construction report published by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). The report had forecasted that the UK’s new points-based immigration system would result in a 40% drop in the number of qualified construction workers coming to the UK from elsewhere. The report had also predicted that there would be a 58% decrease in the number of ‘low skilled’ construction workers in the UK.
Demand for Concessions
The shortage of skilled construction workers has prompted industry stakeholders to demand immediate government action. Some fear that the demand for skilled labour would soon outgrow the supply, which would lead to higher project costs.
Developers, builders and contractors are calling on the government to amend the new uk points-based immigration system and make allowances for construction workers.
“The government needs to reconsider the newly proposed UK visas and immigration process and allow construction workers a concession, given the characteristics of the sector,” said Tema. “For example, staff are self-employed, paid under CIS and given the nature of project-based positions, the need for spoken and written English does not need to be on par with sectors that are delivering a professional service or are people-facing,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the CITB is also bracing up to face this challenge. According to CITB policy director Steve Radley, the long-term solution to this problem is to train more home-grown workers. “The intention is to have an extra 44,000 more British-based people in construction by 2025,” he clarified.