Brexit exodus: UK construction staff shortage leads to project delays and fewer new homes

Construction industry experts warn that an exodus of skilled EU workers is increasingly leading to serious staff shortages and therefore damage the sector and delay a range of projects, primarily as a result of Brexit as well as Covid-19.

Michiel Willems

The ONS said recently that the non-British resident population declined in the year through June 2020, with the biggest decrease among citizens of EU8 countries at -135,000 people.

This groups include migrants from Poland, Estonia and Slovenia, which make up 26 per cent of the UK’s construction sector.

Jason Tema, director of property development firm Clearview Developments, said immediate government intervention is needed to avoid further staff shortages.

“Whilst the departure of EU-born construction professionals might only marginally open up job opportunities for some British workers, a drop of qualified industry staff of this scale will inevitably lead to severe staff shortages,” Tema told City A.M.

“As a result, project completions could face major delays. It’s yet another hurdle for the UK’s construction sector to overcome at a time when the industry is already behind target to build new private market as well as affordable homes,” he added.

Fewer homes

The BBC’s Housing Briefing last year estimated that the UK has built 1.2m fewer homes than it should have, and the need for more homes continues to rise.

The calculations suggest it will take a minimum of 15 years at current building rates to close the gap and that not enough of what is being built is affordable.

The Migration and Construction report, published by the Construction Industry Training Body (CITB), previously warned that recruitment agencies believe the UK’s new, point-based immigration system will lead to a 40 per cent decrease in the number of skilled construction workers coming to the UK.

At the same time, the report forecasted a decrease in the number of ‘low skilled’ construction workers working in the UK of 58 per cent.

“The government needs to reconsider the newly proposed visa process and allow construction workers a concession, given the characteristics of the sector. For example, staff are self-employed, paid under CIS and given the nature of project-based positions, the need for spoken and written English does not need to be on par with sectors that are delivering a professional service or are people-facing,” Tema continued.

“For years, thousands of temporary EU workers have shaped construction sites with the provision of their labour and the government needs to recognise and give support to that for the sector to continue to flourish,” he concluded.