The UK has cast its vote, and the possibility of Brexit will now become a reality. This mammoth decision has summoned up many doubts, fears and questions amongst the British public and businesses alike. One industry that has expressed particular concern is the construction industry, with a pre-Brexit survey revealing that 85 % of UK property and construction executives expected a Leave vote to have a negative effect on the industry. Whether their fears will materialise is a different matter, and one that we will explore in this article.

The key question for the construction industry to consider is; will Brexit lead to a shortage of workers in the construction industry?

The current situation

Now we have the public’s decision, the future of the nation is one of uncertainty. As no country has ever voted to leave the EU, the precise nature of any impacts are unknowable. All we can do is try and predict what could happen based on our current knowledge of the industry and how it operates.

The main concern is that since there is still enormous demand for new homes across the UK, Brexit may impede the country’s ability to build them.

Possible impacts of Brexit on construction labour

  • It’s not uncommon to see multiple nationalities working together on a construction site. Across the UK, official figures show that nearly 12% of construction workers come from abroad, and mainly from the EU. These EU nationals train to come and work in UK construction industry, and this process is a valuable aspect of how the industry functions. Brexit will result in tightening of immigration laws, impacting the free movement of Europeans. This will prevent and deter migrant workers from working in the UK, limiting the free movement of this strong labour force.
  • With this impediment of movement, skill shortages could become a hindrance to construction projects across the nation. The ability to gain expertise and skills from abroad was an asset to the industry, and one that Brexit may damage. It can take years to train a skilled tradesperson, and since there has been a recent slump in available, skilled UK workforce, many companies looked abroad to fill the void, which is now a restricted option.
  • This shortage of skilled labour has the potential to worsen the country’s housing crisis. The uncertainty of Brexit alone has caused delays to planned projects, which is already having a knock-on effect for some businesses in the industry, with a few London architecture firms announcing redundancies.  
  • The rules and regulations protecting the rights of construction workers may now be under threat, as the EU is the body that has been determining and enforcing good working conditions and standards.
  • Brexit will also now present an impenetrable barrier between the UK and pools of foreign funding that we have benefitted from over the years, reducing our ability to pay for labour, training and resources.

On a brighter note…

  • Some people have argued that Brexit offers an opportunity for the country to take advantage of our homegrown talent, and will allow UK construction workers to access a wider range of jobs that were previously dominated by migrant workers. However, it is unknown if the country is able to produce the required amount of skilled workforce needed for the high demand of future housing and planned construction projects.
  • It is hoped that the construction industry will be resilient to the effects of Brexit, and that the economy will stabilise in the future.

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