Ahead of the new budget, the government received demands from the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) to relax immigration rules, to help close the current skills gap faced by the construction industry.
Occupations the CLC wanted to add to the government’s shortage occupation list included, but were not limited to, General Labourers, Carpenters, Joiners, Plant Operatives, Ground Workers and Road Construction Operatives. The CLC also advised that Building Safety Managers be considered for Skilled Worker visas.
Upon the announcement of the new budget, industry stakeholders and specialists like CIOB were pleased to see somewhat relaxed visas. Namely, the adding of five more construction trades to the UK’s shortage occupation list (SOL). Those now included are: Bricklayers and Masons, Roofers, Carpenters and Joiners, Plasterers and Construction trades.
Migration continues to be fundamental to the success of construction, a vital need to maintain the UK’s economy and development. A number of trades are still awaiting decision, including Steel erectors, Scaffolders and Road Construction Operatives.[i]
Mark Reynolds – Co-Chair of the CLC and CEO of MACE – has affirmed the CLC’s commitment to building domestic construction, but states that “the fact is we are still currently facing chronic shortages.” Currently, as James M. Butcher – Director of Policy at the National Federation of Builders – has highlighted, the vacancy rate faced by Construction exceeds all other industries. These vacancies could be filled easily if the government responds accordingly to the CLC’s recommendations.
However, some have called CLC’s wish into question. Some industry experts have pointed out that the rates being offered are not representative of the skills possessed by workers, and are therefore unlikely to attract people to the UK. This is according to Ian Anfield, Managing Director for Hudson Contract, who points out the incompatibility of CIS with the points based system, meaning temporary workers suffer PAYE “with all its cost and complexity”.[ii]
How can we attract overseas workers, then, if the system does not offer a desirable fiscal reward?
The process must be simplified and swift, or else the UK’s construction industry will suffer, with knock-on effects for the wider UK economy.
To appeal to employers who may be wary, Ian Anfield suggests that to ensure compliance with visas, temporary employees “could be overtaxed with returns paid when they leave.”
Ultimately, the industry is suffering the aftereffects of Brexit, and really wants to regain access to the skilled EU market which was previously readily available. Anfield urges the government to use CIS as the means by which to once more access that labour market.
So, what does the current demographic look like?
The Employment by sector page on the government’s website shows the majority of construction workers are White British, comprising 7.0%, double the percentage of Black Construction workers. The second and third most popular ethnicities are White Irish and White (non-specified) both making up 6.9%.[iii]
It is worth noting that the gender imbalance in construction has changed little over the last 10 years, excepting an increase in female managers and directors from 12.4% to 17.5%. In 2021, according to Professor Noble Francis of UCL, women accounted for around 14.4% of the UK’s construction workforce, representing only 0.8% of Skilled Trades.[iv] Perhaps if the industry focused on becoming more representative of society and attracting the talents of presently marginalized groups, the skills gap could be lessened. Admittedly a move which will require a complete cultural overhaul of the construction industry, it would be worth exploring this route before the skills gap crisis becomes even more unwieldy and detrimental to the UK economy.
At Unite People, we welcome all skilled applicants, and are proud to represent many minority candidates who are currently overlooked in the industry. Get in touch today and allow us to elevate your career potential!
[i] Aaron Morby, “Five trades added to skills shortage list for visas,” Construction Enquirer, https://www.constructionenquirer.com/2023/03/15/five-trades-join-eased-work-visa-list/ 15/03/2022.
[ii] Grant Prior, “Industry leaders call for more construction immigration,” Construction Enquirer, https://www.constructionenquirer.com/2023/03/14/industry-leaders-call-for-more-construction-immigration/ 14/03/2023.
[iii] “Employment by sector,” Ethnicity facts and figures, https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/work-pay-and-benefits/employment/employment-by-sector/latest 27/03/2023.
[iv] “Women in UK Construction,” Robinson Manufacturing Limited, https://rmuk.co.uk/gender-balance-in-construction/ 2022.