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28/02/2017

Report: 400,000 workers needed to bridge construction skills ‘gulf’

Words: Laura Edgar
Infrastructure construction

British construction needs to recruit more than 400,000 workers each year between now and 2021 if it is to deliver the homes and infrastructure the nation needs.

Report author Arcadis, a natural and built asset design and consultancy company, said the Arcadis Talent Scale has been developed to measure the true extent of the skills crisis across the infrastructure and housing workforce.

On house building, the report states that if the UK is to “increase output to 270,000 new homes over the next five years, it will need to employ in excess of 370,000 new people”.

An additional 36,500 people need to be employed each year to meet the forecast national infrastructure requirements.

The need is greatest for carpenters and joiners, where demand accounts for nearly a sixth of all national resource requirements, suggests the report. Plumbers, electricians and bricklayers are also in high demand, while at least 7,400 and 7,300 civil engineers and quantity surveyors respectively are required.

London and the South-East are expected to have to employ more than other parts of the UK – 110,000 people, which equates to 30 per cent of demand. Elsewhere, the East of England is projected to require 43,000 workers, and the South-West 41,000. Northern Ireland is expected to need just 3 per cent of the national total.

As infrastructure projects like HS2 and Crossrail 2 progress, Arcadis says it is to be expected that companies will draw heavily on the common talent pool of transferable skills if delivery targets are to be achieved.

Arcadis said the figures are independent of any Brexit deal, “which is likely to further increase the strain”.

James Bryce, director of workforce planning, Arcadis, said: “What we have is not a skills gap; it is a skills gulf. Systemic underinvestment in the nation’s workforce has contributed to a reduction in UK productivity. Construction employment is already down 15 per cent on 2008 and, quite simply, if we don’t have the right people to build the homes and infrastructure we need, the UK is going to struggle to maintain its competitive position in the global economy.”  

He said overcoming such a skills shortfall can’t be achieved through education and technology alone. While more talent need stop be brought into the industry, in the short term, construction will also need to look at those currently working in other industries and “dramatically improve” its efficiency.

“On top of this, as part of any Brexit deal, the government can help by looking to secure the rights of EU workers currently operating in British construction, simplifying the visa system and minimising the tax burden on workers and business,” he said.

If this does not happen, many of the projects that the British government has earmarked for economic stimulus could “prove more difficult and costly to resource”. They might, he concluded, in the worst-case scenario not be delivered at all, “reducing our ability to grow the economy and limiting investment in the industry”.

The report can be found here (pdf).

Image credit | iStock

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