UK construction could come to a 'standstill' if it loses 175,000 EU workers post-Brexit, says RICS

Following the "worrying" news that a post-Brexit UK construction industry stands to lose more than 175,000 EU workers if Britain fails to retain access to the European single market, the sector "needs to pull together to find a solution," says Shraga Stern, director of Decorean.

Prime minister Theresa May will trigger Article 50 starting the official divorce process from the EU on March 29, but with the industry already facing a skills shortage, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) says the sector could lose a further eight per cent of its workforce if a deal cannot be struck, which it says, could bring some of the country’s biggest infrastructure and construction projects to a "standstill".

In its latest industry survey, RICS found 30 per cent of those surveyed believed hiring non-UK workers was important to the success of their businesses, while 20 per cent of respondents felt apprenticeship schemes were not effective at all.

RICS is now urging the Government to add skilled construction workers to the UK shortage occupations list so that they can be prioritised during the visa application process.

"A simple first step would be to ensure that construction professions, such as quantity surveyors, feature on the 'UK Shortage Occupations List'. Ballet dancers won’t improve our infrastructure or solve the housing crisis, yet their skills are currently viewed as essential, whereas construction professionals are not," said Jeremy Blackburn, head of policy at RICS.

Stern is equally concerned: "We said at the time of the Brexit vote that our biggest worry was the impact that leaving the EU will have on accessing skills and talent and statements such as this show it potentially coming to fruition.

"The industry, therefore, needs to pull together to find a solution, starting with growing our domestic skill base and ensuring we are able to attract future generations to replace those workers who may leave.”

And trade union Unite is calling on the Government to wake up to the threat and introduce public procurement policies forcing companies to recruit and train apprentices.

Acting general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “This survey demonstrates once again that the government’s failure to guarantee the rights of existing EU citizens is playing fast and loose with the well-being of the UK economy. The ongoing uncertainty over the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK post-Brexit is already resulting in workers voting with their feet and leaving the UK.

“This will exacerbate the deepening construction skills crisis, resulting in projects being delayed or cancelled, which will severally damage the health of the industry.

“It is essential that the government wakes up to the threat faced to the UK construction industry by reversing decades of neglect and massively increasing the number of high quality apprenticeships so the UK can increasingly become self-sufficient.

“This will not be achieved unless the government introduces strict public procurement policies forcing companies bidding for all public sector contracts to recruit and train high numbers of apprentices. The lassiez faire model of construction apprentice training has been an unmitigated failure.”

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