Migrant labour vital to construction but should not be a substitute for training, says CIOB

With the 2015 UK General Election fast approaching and the immigration debate likely to be central to the decision making of the electorate, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) is launching a report to share the construction industry’s stance on the issue.

The CIOB Perspectives: An analysis on migration in the construction sector report reveals the current effect of migration on UK construction and sets out a series of policy options for government and industry to consider.

The report comes at a time when, according to the British public, immigration has never been a more important issue. Drawing on various sources of data, the CIOB concludes that free movement of labour has always been in the DNA of construction, creating a highly flexible workforce. And with an upturn in construction work, firms will inevitably look to short term fixes overseas to fill skills shortages. But with huge demand for future construction work, the industry must look to young UK people as the future of their workforce.

Chris Blythe, Chief Executive of the CIOB said: “It’s essential that the voice of the construction industry is heard clearly in the migration debate so it can help shape a sensible policy that meets both its needs and those of the wider community. Globally, construction has always relied on migration to fill in gaps in the labour market – simply cutting off the supply of migrant workers risks seriously damaging the UK’s economic prospects both at home and abroad.

“But of more importance is the need to address the fact that the industry simply does not train its own people in sufficient numbers. There can be no excuses for construction not to provide more training opportunities for young UK nationals.

“Our report contains a series of sensible recommendations that need to be considered away from the broader issue of whether the UK should be in or out of the European Union.”

The report concludes that:

  •  Migration is necessary to construction. It dampens the harmful effects of having a volatile labour market. Tight regulation of migration would damage construction activity in the UK.
  •  The greatest opportunity to expand the UK base of expertise in construction lies in boosting overseas activity. A perception of having closed borders would greatly weaken the UK’s prospects of expanding its positive balance in construction-related trade.
  •  Construction firms will be attracted to draw more heavily on migrant workers as the industry emerges from recession.
  •  Without regulatory control, the most effective way to reduce migration into construction jobs is to invest heavily in training, mentoring and developing young UK citizens. This in the process reduces the burden of youth unemployment.
  •  To reduce the skills shortages, the industry must find ways to retain older workers.
  •  If we wish to reduce the stresses on the community created by migration, investment in construction must rise.
  •  To reduce the migrant flows into and out of the construction industry, investment in the built environment needs to be such that it reduces volatility in demand nationally, locally and by sector.

The report will be launched at an event in The House of Commons on 3 March 2015. A copy can be accessed at: www.ciob.org/population.