New immigration rules can be positive for construction
The new points-based immigration system is good news for tradespeople and potentially for the wider UK construction industry, says Mark Beard.
When change looms, a good starting point is always to try and see the positives, accepting that people’s motives are invariably well considered and change is part of the dynamic world in which we live. Immigration has been a contentious subject for decades and the UK government’s post-Brexit plans were never going to please everyone.
What the UK government has come up with is a pretty smart, balanced solution to a difficult problem. In essence, it is restricting trade and lower-paid immigration, but allowing a more liberal flow of technical, professional and higher paid construction workers, with a focus on permanent roles.
In the short and medium term, this will cause further skills shortages on site, to which the construction industry is likely to respond by paying more for available labour resources, levelling up the wages of those at the sharp end of our industry. This in itself, is a very good thing.
However, how the industry then reacts to a world of higher labour costs is really interesting and potentially game-changing. My hope and expectation is that higher labour costs will accelerate a number of positive changes already taking place in our industry, including:
- Contractors being forced by the resulting labour shortages to provide tradespeople and others with safer, healthier and better organised working conditions;
- Contractors looking at the ever-increasing cost of every hour worked on site, increasingly focusing on overall site productivity, providing tradespeople with the information to work efficiently and giving them every chance of getting it right first time;
- Those responsible for design putting greater efforts into producing fully detailed, well-coordinated designs that facilitate efficient working;
- Customers increasingly looking to modular solutions, which minimise the use of site labour; and
- All of us embracing the digital tools that other industries have used for many years.
This may read like motherhood and apple pie. There will be many bumps in the road, but there should be optimism that the government’s proposed points-based immigration system will lead to a better industry.
In part, because we have embraced a variety of change over the last decade, that has led to a better industry – most notably in our approach to keeping everyone who works on our sites safe – but also because there are a number of elements of the government’s proposed immigration system which further encourage modernisation.
In particular, the focus on allowing in higher-paid technical and professional construction staff will give greater emphasis to fully designing and planning all elements of works before commencing each element of work on site, while the granting of immigration points to permanent employees will disproportionally help modular offsite construction companies.
However, there are two very big provisos to our new points-based system leading to a better construction industry.
Firstly, the construction industry presenting a far more positive image to individuals (and to their parents/teachers) considering a variety of career options. And secondly, the construction industry and government working together to ensure education and training provided is fit for purpose: delivering the necessary skills for tomorrow as well as today.
If you are one of the lucky ones to receive a big short-term boost to your earnings from restricted labour flow – enjoy it while it lasts. But do make sure you keep enhancing your skills so that you are ready for the new digital world that is likely to follow.
Mark Beard is chairman of Beard Group and president-elect of the CIOB