This month’s Property Week article by Ciara Walker, “Skills crisis looms in construction” highlighted a major challenge for the construction industry as it starts to emerge from lockdown.
F3 develop’s Senior Consultant, Dean Morelli, who has more than thirty years’ construction experience, gives his thoughts.
“…labour pressures are due to mount, as structural issues such as an ageing workforce and low recruitment combine with the added constraints of Brexit, Covid and new regulations and skill demands on the industry”
The economic metrics relating to this news can be read in reports and balance sheets, adjusted to account for it. What’s harder to accept is the short shortsightedness of our political leadership and our industry in respect of preparing UK construction for this. It is systemic and generational and has bumped along at the bottom for at least two decades.
“Last year an estimated 700,000 – 800,000 EU workers left London alone.”
Access to affordable skilled and unskilled continental labour was important to UK construction. Immigrant labour has moved towards employment opportunities since the Pyramids. Cutting that supply off in a three or four year Brexit target was poorly handled, then exacerbated by overly harsh headline grabbing immigration laws.
What was needed was a sustained government funded marketing campaign attracting young people into this space, followed by further government investment and funding for craft and academic training, which has at least a 10 year cycle, two or three years of intensive marketing, followed by three to five years of training. We ignored this at our peril. The complete absence of a plan was like watching a car crash in slow motion. Covid has put it all in stark relief.
“Designing and creating the next generation of buildings will require more skills at a time when less skilled labour is likely to be available.”
In my view, Tier 1 apprenticeships have more to do with a business’s own marketing campaign as opposed to bringing on a new generation of builders. It’s been left to market forces which are a double-edged sword in construction.
In many instances it has helped fuel a race to the bottom, driving down margins, forcing many Tier 2s especially SME’s to abandon anything non-essential: sustainable training and apprenticeships being among early casualties.
We built an underlying dependence on continental labour and effectively ignored what’s actually required to build a competent, trained British work force. On a personal note, it’s not just former health care professionals that came out of retirement to meet demand, I have a couple of former colleagues who have decided to come out of retirement to meet demand – market forces in action?