As the Brexit deadline looms ever closer, construction leaders have called for a “twin-track” strategy to address the industry-wide skills problem which is described as the “single biggest issue keeping construction employers awake at night”.
A five-year forecast into the industry’s skills needs published by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) has shortened expectations for growth with infrastructure predicted to grow by 1.9%, down from 3.1% in last year’s forecast.
The slower forecast within the annual Construction Skills Network (CSN) report is said to be severely impacted by Brexit uncertainty and by investors stalling construction of the Welsh nuclear power plant Wylfa in January.
Leaders also anticipate construction growth of 1.3% across the UK, down a third of a percent on the previous year. The forecast is based on the scenario that the UK agrees an exit deal with the EU, rather than a ‘No Deal’ situation.
CITB say the biggest increase is expected in public housing, which is pulling ahead as infrastructure slows. Financial support from Government at both local and national levels is encouraging a 3.2% growth rate in public housing, up half a percent since last year’s forecast.
Despite the wider economic uncertainty, more construction workers will be needed over the next five years. An approximate 168,500 construction jobs are to be created in the UK over the next five years, 10,000 more than in last year’s forecast. Construction employment is expected to reach 2.79 million in 2023, just 2% lower than its peak in 2008.
One of the key recommendations set out by a pan-industry group to attract more talent is by persuading older workers to stay in the industry.
The supplementary Building After Brexit: An Action Plan for Industry report identifies the need for construction to adopt a twin-track strategy: growing investment in the domestic workforce and driving up productivity, while working with government to agree how to maintain access to migrant workers to give it the breathing space to adapt.
Recommendations to lessen the impact of Brexit include:
- Attract talent by raising apprenticeship starts and completions, creating pathways into construction for under-represented groups and providing better work experience opportunities.
- Retain the workforce by supporting older workers to stay in the industry, upskilling the existing workforce and offering improved mental health support.
- Be productive by developing a Future Skills Strategy to identify the skills required to modernise the industry, drive digitalisation forward and boost investment in modern methods of construction.
Steve Radley, policy director at CITB, said: “This forecast aptly reflects the uncertainty, particularly associated with Brexit that we’re seeing across the wider economy. Currently, concerns around Brexit are weighing on clients and investors, creating a knock-on effect on contractors and their ability to plan ahead. Construction needs a twin-track strategy, increasing investment in the domestic workforce and working with government to agree how we can maintain access to migrant workers to give it the breathing space to adapt to changing rules.”
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, added: “The single biggest issue keeping construction employers awake at night is the skills shortage. If we’re going to address this skills gap post-Brexit, the whole industry needs to step up and expand their training initiatives. Even Sole Traders can offer short term work experience placements and large companies should be aiming to ensure at least 5 per cent of their workforce are trainees or apprentices.”