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Boris Johnson’s Promised Infrastructure Boom is Impossible Without Foreign-Born Labour
Many industries will be impacted because of the government's intent to withhold visas from low-skill workers. The construction sector, however, could wind up bearing the brunt of the impact. For the last decade, this industry has been heavily dependent on foreign-born workers. During the last recession, many construction projects were delayed or cancelled. During this […]
Many industries will be impacted because of the government's intent to withhold visas from low-skill workers. The construction sector, however, could wind up bearing the brunt of the impact. For the last decade, this industry has been heavily dependent on foreign-born workers. During the last recession, many construction projects were delayed or cancelled. During this period, domestic workers moved on to find employment in other industries. When things picked back up, there were skills shortages in the workforce born in the UK, which is why this industry became reliant on migrant labour. According to the Office for National Statistics, 8% of UK construction workers are EU nationals. In London, the percentage is much higher, with EU nationals making up 28% of the construction workforce. Having access to foreign-born labour has made it easier for the industry to deal with the lack of apprentice workers. Date from the Construction Industry Training Board shows that there are approximately 168,500 new positions that will need to be filled within the following five years. Since there will be strict access to migrant labour in the post-Brexit world, it will be necessary to grow the domestic workforce. However, according to current figures of the government, fewer people in England are beginning apprenticeships. Between 2018 and 2019, rates fell from 132,000 to 125,800, which is a 4.7% decrease. Furthermore, a growing number of workers are choosing to retire. According to ONS figures from 2011, one 1 out of every 5 construction workers born in the UK was over the age of 55. By 2021, which is when restrictions on foreign labour start, many of these workers will be at the age of retirement. If construction companies don't have access to foreign-born workers, many of these companies will not be able to survive. Furthermore, the government does not fully comprehend the construction sector and what qualifies as a skilled worker within this industry. The migrants that work in construction don't align with stereotypes pushed by Brexit proponents. Many of these workers are experienced tradesmen with highly useful skills. Thankfully, the government has now proposed to add plasterers and carpenters to the shortage occupation list, which is an official list of positions that can't be filled by resident workers. Unfortunately, many essential trades, including plumbers, electricians, and bricklayers, are not on this list. Furthermore, there are larger problems that the government seems to be unaware of. While Boris Johnson has made attention-grabbing announcements about new infrastructure and home construction projects, hotels in Reading and more besides, completing these kinds of projects will require many new workers. Without access to foreign-labour, how will the construction industry be able to recruit enough workers for these jobs? Skills shortages are already an issue within the industry. According to 2019 McBain survey of over 400 builders, only 48% respondents believed it was possible to complete the housebuilding targets set by the government. The builders that believed the target was impossible to achieve stated a lack of skilled labour as one of the primary setbacks. In order to achieve these goals, the government will need to do two things. To start, they'll need to increase the number of skilled trades that are on the list of shortage occupations. Beyond that, they will need to maintain freedom of movement past 31 December so that migrant workers can fill in gaps while the UK trains more workers at home. Bricklayers require between three and four years of straining, so for the time being, the industry needs to ensure that they have access to foreign workers to fill many essential positions. The local market usually isn't enough to provide the workforce that is necessary for large-scale projects or projects that are highly technical. Because of this, the industry needs to be able to recruit migrant workers so that they have access to a flexible workforce. Without access to this, the construction industry will be damage, and the infrastructure surge that Boris Johnson has promised will be impossible.