Act now to avert Brexit construction skills crisis, says think tank

The government should give existing EU-born construction workers an immediate guarantee that they can continue to live and work in the UK after Brexit, according to a think tank.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says this and other measures are necessary to mitigate the damaging effects on the construction sector of ending freedom of movement after Brexit.

The IPPR claims that without these measures, ending freedom of movement will lead to a skills crisis in the UK construction industry. The new IPPR analysis says that without access to workers from the EU, the sector faces a demographic time-bomb, with 1m workers due to retire in the next 20 years. 

The analysis shows that if the UK had extended its non-EU visa system to EU nationals, only 7% of EU-born construction workers would have been eligible to work here. The report says the system of training workers, which includes a decline in apprenticeships, is dysfunctional. 

Joe Dromey, IPPR senior research fellow, says: “Brexit threatens to turn the growing skills challenge in the construction industry into an existential crisis, with significant negative consequences for our economy and for the housing crisis.”

London, where half of all construction workers are from outside the EU, would be particularly hard hit were free movement of labour to end. 

The report makes a number of recommendations:

  • Government must ensure immediate guarantee of the rights of existing EU nationals to remain and work in the UK to give them confidence and prevent them from leaving the UK
  • Ensure that the construction industry retains access to EU workers for a transitionary period of at least five years to give the industry time to adapt and boost training and productivity
  • Introduce a trusted sponsor scheme that allows employers to recruit EU nationals in exchange for demonstrating good employment practice
  • Create a new sectoral institution – Construction UK – to drive a collective commitment to skills and productivity in the industry

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