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Balfour Beatty calls for easier access to foreign workers

14 May 2019 | By Neil Gerrard

Aerial view of the T2B terminal project, Heathrow

Balfour Beatty has called on the government to make it easier for construction firms to recruit lower-paid workers in shortage occupations who they unable to source domestically, as part of an 11-point plan on how to tackle the skills shortage.

It has published a new paper called Transforming infrastructure: Skills for the UK’s megaprojects, which looks at how to scale the industry up for some of the most ambitious schemes in the UK’s history, including a new runway at Heathrow and Sizewell C nuclear plant, in the face of a 20-25% decline predicted in the workforce within a decade.

Among its 11 key points and recommendations on how to address the issue, Balfour Beatty warned that the industry was already scaling up for several mega projects, despite public perception that they were far off in the future, and that action to deal with skills shortages needed to happen now.

It warned that many positions in construction that face shortages do not command the £30,000 minimum salary threshold suggested in the government’s Immigration White Paper and urged an approach to let construction firms access skilled workers they cannot source domestically.

It also called for decisions on large schemes to be made more quickly to give firms more certainty to plan and train workers, as well as urging better sequencing of projects so that specialist skills could be transferred from one to the next without delays.

And it criticised the “failure” of the apprenticeship levy to drive more apprentices for leading to “mounting frustration across the economy”.

“Government and industry agree that the apprenticeship levy is not working. Now that the government has agreed to evolve the levy, the reform must be swift and far-reaching to ensure that it works for the construction and infrastructure industry,” it said in its report.

It also called on the government to do more to educate and inform about the benefits of offsite and modular building in order to speed up the adoption of modern methods of construction.

Dean Banks, chief executive officer of Balfour Beatty’s UK construction services business, said: “The serious skills shortage our industry is currently experiencing is putting the delivery of critical infrastructure schemes at risk; driving increased wage costs and project delays.

“If the industry is to attract a future workforce of engineers, construction workers and new entrants, industry and Government must increase productivity whilst simultaneously improving diversity to represent the communities in which we operate.”

To read the paper in full, click here.

Comments

Fear of too many foreign workers coming to the UK was a major driver of the Brexit vote. Therefore it seems contradictory for various industries to ask the Government to make it easier for foreign workers to come to the UK. The Government has made immigration a ‘red line’ in its EU negotiations. If it stays true to these should rebut industry calls for more foreign workers.

Companies need to lift wages and other benefits to attract more UK workers. If this fails at least the jobs may then be in the 30,000 plus bracket needed for a visa application. Of course, this may make some industries uncompetitive, but then you cannot have it all ways.

(BTW this comment is not intended as a Brexit political statement, more an observation on the consequences of Brexit).

Paul Akhurst, 14 May 2019

The real problem is that the top management is a key problem for the British Construction Industry due to its poor ability to get up to speed with the modern world. The Industry has gone from a World leader in the 1950s to an almost "has been". Compared with North America the United Kingdom is almost in the dark ages.

Roger Ward FCIOB PQS(F), 16 May 2019

Balfour Beatty has called on the government to make it easier for construction firms to recruit lower-paid workers. What! I agree with Paul Akhurst

Sheila, 16 May 2019

If the industry is worried about - "The serious skills shortage our industry is currently experiencing is putting the delivery of critical infrastructure schemes at risk; driving increased wage costs and project delays", - pay the bosses at the top less - this may help to pay the increase in labour costs for those at the bottom ( it may mean the ones at the top can't afford second/third homes and some luxury items, but it may help the WORKERS to have a living wage and perhaps to afford to get a mortgage.

RoyA, 16 May 2019

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