The UK plans to refuse visas to those who are low-skilled. Although this may sound good to some, the fact is this plan will cause plenty of problems. The government’s plan will affect lots of businesses, especially the construction industry.
Need for Migrant Workers
The fact is, ever since the change in the economy, the building industry relies to a significant extent on migrant workers. When construction projects were halted, domestic workers left the construction industry to find other ways to support their families. That left the door open for foreign labour to do the jobs in the UK when business picked up again after the economy improved.
According to the Office for National Statistics, EU nationals make up a significant portion of the construction workforce. In the UK, EU nationals make up 8 per cent of construction workers and 28 per cent in London.
Migrant labourers have helped the construction industry, including companies like Fourwalls
, deal with the lack of apprentices. The Construction Industry Training Board reports that the construction industry will need to fill approximately 168,500 new jobs over the coming five years. It must also grow more of its domestic workforce after the limits on migrant workers after Brexit.
Labour Shortages due to Brexit
However, government figures have shown that the number of people beginning an apprenticeship in England fell, not rose. Last year, the numbers dropped to 125,800 between August and October, down 4.7 per cent. A year earlier, the number was approximately 132,000 in the same quarter.
At the same time, the construction industry is being affected at the other end. The 2011 figures from ONS report that one in every five UK-born workers in construction was 55 years of age or over. Therefore, in 2021, such people will have reached retirement age, which will occur at the same time restrictions on migrant workers due to Brexit occur
. As a result, without the benefit of migrant workers, it could mean the death of many construction companies in the UK, leaving a significant void.
Unfortunately, the government does not understand what a skilled worker is in the construction business. They don’t realize that immigrants who come into the construction industry are highly trained, something that does not fit the stereotype pushed by supporters of Brexit.
Good news is that the government is working on a shortage occupation list which includes filling the shortage with carpenters and plasterers. However, the list does not include other crucial trades such as plumbers, bricklayers, and electricians.
More importantly, there’s a major issue which makes the government look blind. When Boris Johnson made significant announcements about his goals, one of these goals was to build a significant wall.
However, for this kind of infrastructure, where will the workers come from?
The construction industry is worried about shortages of skilled workers. When over 400 house builders were surveyed last year by McBains, approximately 48 per cent of respondents thought the government’s plans for housebuilding were achievable. For those who didn’t feel this way, the second most significant reason they conveyed is that there’s not enough skilled labour.
What Can Be Done?
There are two things that need to happen. The first thing that needs to happen is that the government must add more skilled trades to the list. The second that that needs to happen is that beyond 31 December, foreign-born workers need to be able to fill in the gap while UK workers are trained. It takes three to four years for a bricklayer to be trained
. The industry must gain migrant labour in many of the related professions.
The local market can never supply the workforce needed for highly technical projects. The industry must have a highly flexible, itinerant workforce to draw from; this includes recruiting from abroad. If this fails to happen, the government’s proposals will harm the construction business and ruin Johnson’s goal of an infrastructure boom.