A system of immigration that provides the construction sector with enough skilled workers to build the homes the country needs must be brought in, according to the Federation of Master Builders.
The FMB – the largest trade association in the UK construction industry – warned that it needs workers to build homes and infrastructure projects, in response to the British electorate’s decision to leave the European Union.
Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: ‘The UK construction industry has been heavily reliant on migrant workers from Europe for decades now – at present, 12 per cent of the British construction workers are of non-UK origin.
‘The majority of these workers are from EU countries such as Poland, Romania and Lithuania and they have helped the construction industry bounce back from the economic downturn when 400,000 skilled workers left our industry, most of which did not return.
‘It is now the government’s responsibility to ensure that the free-flowing tap of migrant workers from Europe is not turned off.
‘If ministers want to meet their house building and infrastructure objectives, they have to ensure that the new system of immigration is responsive to the needs of industry.’
Mr Berry continued: ‘At the same time, we need to ensure that we invest in our own home-grown talent through apprenticeship training.
‘We need to train more construction apprentices so we are not overly reliant on migrant workers from Europe or further afield.
‘That’s why it’s so important that the government gets the funding framework right for apprenticeships – when you consider that this whole policy area is currently in flux, and then you add Brexit into the mix, it’s no exaggeration to say that a few wrong moves by the government could result in the skills crisis becoming a skills catastrophe.
‘The next few years will bring unprecedented challenges to the construction and house building sector, and it’s only through close collaboration between the government and industry that we’ll be able to overcome them.’
Mark Robinson, chief executive of Scape Group, a public sector owned built environment specialist, agreed.
He said: ‘The government must clarify as a matter of urgency what will happen to the EU construction workers in the UK, as they are currently filling the gap left by our skills crisis.
‘We need to recruit a million workers into the industry by 2020, and putting EU migrants off coming here will only exacerbate this problem.
‘For the public sector and its supply chains to plan ahead as best they can, we need to know when and how migration and employment patterns will be affected.’
Steve Cripps, construction manager at PMC Construction & Development Services, in Portsmouth, said: ‘There’s not enough English supply at the moment, this will hinder the progress of the industry.
‘There are not enough English people looking to come in to construction as there’s no long-term stability, which is something the European workers tend to ignore.
‘I’m really worried about the industry.’
Derren Gates, from Williams and Co Plumbing and Heating Supplies in Portsmouth, said: ‘In the short term there will be a fall out, but in the long term it will be good for the country.
‘It goes two ways, it might open doors for our own apprenticeships, we don’t see many these days, and now we’re going back to strengthening the UK’s industry.’