UK construction industry could lose 8% of workforce post-Brexit, new RICS figures reveal

The UK construction industry could lose almost 200,000 EU workers post-Brexit should Britain lose access to the single market, putting some of the country’s biggest infrastructure and construction projects under threat, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has revealed.

RICS has cautioned that for Brexit to succeed, it is essential to secure continued access to the EU Single Market or to put alternative plans in place to safeguard the future of the property and construction sectors in the UK.

Latest RICS figures show that eight per cent of the UK’s construction workers are EU nationals, accounting for some 176,500 people. Thirty per cent of the construction professionals surveyed revealed that hiring non-UK workers was important to the success of their businesses.

The UK is already in the grip of a construction skills crisis. While some overseas professionals such as ballet dancers are regarded as critical by the UK government, and are therefore prioritised during the visa application process, construction professions have not yet been added to the ‘UK Shortage Occupations List’. RICS is warning that this could already be placing the UK’s predicted £500bn infrastructure pipeline under threat and must be addressed as a priority.

When asked about the effectiveness of current plans to address the UK’s long-term skills shortages, 20 per cent of respondents felt that apprenticeship schemes were not effective at all.

RICS Head of UK Policy, Jeremy Blackburn said:

“These figures reveal that the UK construction industry is currently dependent on thousands of EU workers. It is in all our interests that we make a success of Brexit, but a loss of access to the single market, has the potential to slowly bring the UK’s £500bn infrastructure pipeline to a standstill. That means that unless access to the single market is secured or alternative plans are put in place, we won’t be able to create the infrastructure needed to enable our cities to compete on a global stage. We have said before that this is a potential stumbling block for the Government, which is working to deliver both its Housing White Paper and Industrial Strategy.

“A simple first step would be to ensure that construction professions such as Quantity Surveyors feature on the Shortage Occupations List. Ballet dancers won’t improve our infrastructure or solve the housing crisis, yet their skills are currently viewed as essential, whereas construction professionals are not.

“Of course, we must also address the need to deliver a construction and property industry that is resilient to future change, and can withstand the impact of any future political or economic shocks. Key to that will be growing the domestic skills base. As the industry’s professional body, we are working with Government and industry to develop that skills base, building vital initiatives, such as degree apprenticeships, in our sector to drive the talent pipeline forward. This survey reveals that more work needs to be done to promote the indisputable benefits of these schemes to industry, and RICS intends to take this forward as a priority.”

RICS is today calling on the UK Government to secure a Brexit deal that supports the construction, property and land sectors by:

  • Laying out a clear timeline and set of ambitions: Government can minimise uncertainty over the exit negotiations by laying out a clear timeline and set of ambitions — certainty and stability are required. We would ask Government to put interim, transitionary arrangements in place to avoid any potential “cliff edge”. We need to ensure that investment into UK infrastructure continues -foresight and fiscal stimulus through this process will help the industry weather uncertainty.
  • Attracting private infrastructure investors: Government must seek out and attract private investors. This is key to improving our productivity and regional rebalancing in the UK, while enabling us to become an even greater global gateway for trade and tourism beyond Brexit.
  • Providing access to a skilled international workforce and develop home-grown talent: access to a skilled international workforce and a focus on developing the next generation of home-grown talent are critical to ensure we can build the homes, businesses and infrastructure we need. Our future immigration system must and not hinder the movement of construction skills.
  • Agreeing on the “passporting” of professional services: Agreement for the “passporting” of professional services, including chartered surveyors, is essential to many global, UK-based real estate firms and the projects they support. The passporting of professional services (including accountancy and law), as well as the financial services sector, is hugely important to the investment in and occupation of commercial property, and the footprint of such firms in our major cities.
  • Capitalising on the chance to reset British agriculture: Leaving the Common Agriculture Policy gives us a unique chance to reset the British agriculture and environmental policy system. How we manage land is crucial to farm production, quality of our landscapes and the variety of nature we enjoy. We must maintain basic support structures, albeit at new levels, and gear towards those who manage less favoured areas.

For further information on the RICS Brexit wish list.