Civils contractors and the Construction Leadership Council have both have warned that the new point-based immigration system the government plans to implement from next January will create labour market pressures for employers, potentially threatening the construction sector’s ability to deliver the vital infrastructure the country needs.
Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), said: “The UK’s construction sector already relies on a large number of migrants - they make up roughly one in ten of all workers in the industry, and up to half the workforce on some sites in London. As such, ending free movement potentially creates labour market pressures for contractors.
“It is to be welcomed that the government has shifted its position on the skill level required for entry, from requiring degree-level to the equivalent of A-level education, and a salary threshold of £25,600. In areas where the construction industry relies on migrants, wages are already well above this level for most roles.
“The challenge for industry will hence focus on the skills requirement for entry. It is good news that many skills the industry requires, such as those possessed by quantity surveyors or civil engineers, are well above the threshold.
“Nonetheless there are areas of concern in some trades. For instance groundworkers, construction operatives, highways maintenance operatives, and plant operatives, will struggle to meet these new criteria. These are all roles that industry needs to fill if it is to deliver the planned pipeline of infrastructure investment.
“With an economy that is close to full employment, it is unclear where industry will be able to recruit from for roles that do not fulfil these new criteria from the domestic market in the immediate future. In addition, many SMEs, which make up the vast majority of the UK’s construction industry, will now have to sponsor new entrants for the first time, working in an unfamiliar system.
“We believe further work needs to be done to ensure that industry is prepared for this new system, and to guarantee that employers in the infrastructure sector will be able to recruit new entrants at a sufficient rate to deliver the forthcoming infrastructure revolution.”
The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) cautiously welcomed the government’s policy, but pointed out concerns that the proposed new system is “likely to make it harder for the UK construction sector to deliver the homes and infrastructure we so desperately need.”
Mark Reynolds, Mace CEO and CLC skills lead, said: “Led by the CLC, organisations across the sector have been investing heavily in developing local homegrown talent for our industry, working together to create a clear route from school and training into full time employment in construction for people across the UK.
“However, we still face a significant talent gap and for the time being must rely on being able to access the right mix of people and expertise from overseas to effectively meet the UK's infrastructure and built environment requirements.
“We are pleased to have clarity on this government’s proposals for the UK’s future immigration system, but unfortunately the new system is likely to make it harder for the UK construction sector to deliver the homes and infrastructure we so desperately need.
“We welcome the salary thresholds being lowered to £25,600 in line with the MAC recommendations, however the decision to set skills thresholds to RQF3-5 is a disappointment, as it disregards skilled trades such as bricklayers and carpenters are qualified to level RQF2.
“This decision will impact on the ability of the sector to deliver the homes we so desperately need to solve the housing crisis.”