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UK – Skills shortages, not Brexit, are main threat to construction industry

03 August 2016

Worsening skills shortages, rather than uncertainty over Brexit, are the main threat to the UK construction industry, according to construction and rail recruitment firm One Way.

Data from Markit/Cips shows that post EU referendum, construction output is shrinking at its fastest pace since 2009.

“While numerous people have suggested that Brexit presents challenges to the construction industry, the idea is actually a bit of a red herring and we’ve seen little change since the result except for some natural hesitation brought on by the ‘Armageddon scenarios’ being pumped into the market,” Paul Payne, managing director of One Way, said. “We’re as busy now as we were before the referendum and the real issue – the crippling lack of skilled professionals in this country – is being overlooked because of all the noise around Brexit.”

Speaking exclusively to Staffing Industry Analysts, Payne spoke about the role of temporary and contract workers in the construction industry.

“More and more professionals are choosing to operate on a temporary or contract basis largely because the money is more attractive than that offered in permanent roles. As we all know, the industry is facing huge shortages and the skilled workers in the market are in significant demand, Payne said. "The more astute individuals have seen this as an opportunity to earn considerably more in a shorter space of time and such is the dearth of skills, businesses are having to pay over the market rate in order to secure their services. While this may provide a short term fix, it’s definitely not a long term solution and, as we’ve said over the past few months, unless something significant is done soon we’re going to reach a breaking point where there’s simply not enough professionals to complete the work. More people operating in construction would also mean that rates would stabilise which would have a positive effect on the industry as a whole.”

“Yes, the construction industry has benefitted from being part of the EU as it has given the sector access to a lot of workers who have moved over and have filled lower skilled roles, however we’ve never seen any great influx of skilled professionals who can work as design managers or quantity surveyors, for example,” Payne said. “These people are needed across the entire industry and in related fields like civil engineering and currently there are far, far too few of them. More robust and well prepared hiring firms like ourselves will always have the resources to be able to pluck individual experts from the EU regardless of changes to freedom of movement laws, but in reality there is no quick fix.

“The only solution is to focus on ‘growing our own’, for example, through targeting more apprentices and youngsters at school level as well as widening the scope of people who are potentially interested in working in the industry to include more women and professionals from diverse backgrounds. Even at the moment when there are a number of major projects being put on hold there simply aren’t enough people in the market to meet demand. Imagine what the situation will be like when the economy picks up and they’re given the green light. Ultimately, something needs to happen quickly as we’re rapidly approaching a breaking point where productivity will be affected,” Payne said.

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