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The Brexit deal has been done and many sectors are wondering what the future holds, and what the impact will be. The negotiations lasted over two years, and with a very strong possibility of No Deal, the relief is palpable that an agreement has been reached. But whilst the new trade deal is certainly the better of the two options, and has been welcomed by the UK construction industry, it does bring about its own impact that will need to be addressed.
There are many reasons why Brexit might affect construction. As a whole, the sector has a higher reliance on migrant labour than in other industries, citing some experts to express concern about a skills shortage. A 2019 report by CITB found that 14% of the UK’s construction workforce was from the EU, with that figure rising to 54% in London. As many of these workers operate as self employed, they may struggle to gain a visa under the new rules.
With numerous large infrastructure projects taking place currently in the UK, such as HS2, the availability of workers is essential. And whilst highly skilled specialists will always be sought after, there’s also a high demand for labourers and those that technically fall under the government’s ‘low skilled’ category.
Whilst the majority of the construction workforce is predominantly home-grown, it’s clear that migrant support is crucial, particularly within projects in London. CITB’s Construction Skills Network forecast that there will be an estimated 168,500 roles required between now and 2023, in order to remain at current productivity levels, and accounting for industry growth.
So, how can the sector achieve this? Apprenticeships and further education has a huge part to play in filling that gap. Encouraging the younger generation into the industry by presenting construction as an attractive career option with many prospects, can not only attract the next generation of workers, but may also help to entice those that wish to pivot across industries. Attracting those from other oversubscribed sectors, and allowing them to switch roles easily, also has the potential to help support the needs of the industry.
The end of free movement brings a restriction on goods as much as it does on people. With potential duties on imports and exports, as well as quantity limits and delays in the supply chain, there is already an increase in prices for construction materials, or foreseen shortages.
However, the good news is that experts are predicting that these would have been much worse under a no-deal scenario. The weakening pound will bring price rises in itself, but ultimately the use of UK-based companies and materials for many long-term infrastructure projects underway across the UK, will lead to a strengthened GDP and increased productivity.
Experts do say that we are some way off having the UK market provide all those required materials domestically, so the fact that the Brexit deal stipulates a tariff-free trading relationship was welcome news for the construction industry.
Brexit also means that the UK can now negotiate its own trade agreements with other countries outside of the EU, such as the USA and China.
“With major infrastructure projects happening UK-wide, it was essential for construction that we reached a deal with the EU,” says Chris Wallis, National Business Development Manager at Search Construction & Property. “Access to skilled workers and supplies are crucially important to avoid long delays on these projects.”
He said, “The industry now needs to look to the future to fill any gaps in labour or materials, to ensure that businesses aren’t reliant on diminishing areas. Construction has an ageing workforce, and often a lack of capacity to train those new to the industry. Brexit brings an opportunity to up-skill the next generation of construction talent, and make sure that the industry is seen as an exciting career prospect for school and university leavers.
“Of course, it helps to have a well-connected construction recruiter to support businesses and manage any skills shortages they might come up against. Our dedicated recruitment specialists are always on hand to talk through project requirements, with a large roster of UK-wide temporary and permanent workers available.”
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