A third of construction firms employ migrant workers, finds survey
A third of UK construction firms employ migrant workers due to not enough skilled applicants in the UK and firms are fearful of the potential impact of an immigration cap.
These are the findings of new research conducted by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) with IFF Research and the Institute of Employment Research at Warwick University.
Bringing together the views of construction firms, employment agencies and migrant workers, the survey found employers turn to migrants because there are not enough skilled job applicants in the UK and 22% of employers said migrant workers have a better work ethic. But only 1% specifically look to recruit migrants.
The study examined the likely impact of Brexit on construction’s workforce, with two in five employment agencies saying they expect staff shortages after Britain leaves the EU. However, 75% of migrant workers expect to be in UK construction in a year’s time, and more than half expect to work here until retirement.
The research showed that the largest number of migrant workers are general labourers (22%), although there is a wide spread across many skilled areas, such as architects (15%), carpenters/joiners (13%), plasterers (13%), bricklayers (11%) and managers (9%).
One in eight construction workers was born outside the UK, and one in 15 – or 140,000 overall – come from the EU. The majority come from Poland (39%) and Romania (26%), and they are largely London-based.
One quarter of employers surveyed reported at least one impact of Brexit on their company to date, with the most common being increased costs (12%), followed by project delays due to uncertainty and a lack of client investment.
London-based construction firms were more likely to report impacts because of Brexit, notably a lack of client investment (23%), project delays (19%) and staff shortages (13%).
The research was based on more than 600 interviews with construction firms, employment agencies and migrant workers.
Steve Radley, director of policy at CITB, said: “Our detailed look at migration labour in construction illustrates how it gives employers the flexibility to respond rapidly to a range of skill needs. It shows that the construction workforce is still largely home-grown but migrant workers play a critical role, particularly in major projects and in London.
“While most firms are not reporting an impact from Brexit, those who employ migrants are concerned about the future availability of EU workers. But with over three quarters of construction workers expecting to stay in the next 12 months, we have breathing space to adapt to any changes in migration policy.
“While construction employers work with government on its future approach, we will support them to find new and better ways to attract, train and retain the workforce they need.”
The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) also commentated on the report and urged government to act now to prevent an oncoming skills crisis.
Director of external affairs for CECA, Marie-Claude Hemming, said: “CECA calls on the new government to take steps to ensure the construction industry is able to recruit suitably-skilled workers to build what is a substantial pipeline of work in the coming years.
“A key step towards building industry confidence would be to immediately guarantee the rights of EU construction workers living in the UK, to ensure that those who are helping to build the future health of the UK economy can continue to do so post-Brexit.
“If the government is to head off a construction skills crisis after Brexit, it must act to dispel uncertainties over the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy, clarify the status of EU nationals working in the industry, and redouble its efforts to attract new entrants to the sector.”