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Feature Migration

IF YOU GO DOWN to a site today, how many construction workers and managers will be foreign-born? Looking at the figures suggested by the 2011 national census, it could be around 9.6% – up from 5% in 2001. If that site is employing foreign- born workers in line with national trends for the working population as a whole, then government statistics suggest it could be around 16.6% – up from just 8.2% in 1995. And if it’s a site in the south-east run by one of the major householders – we spoke to Berkeley Group – it could be an estimated 20-30%. The sector has always pulled in labour

from other countries in times of high demand, then let it disperse as work thins out: immigration acts as a safety valve that allows contractors to smooth out bumps in demand. So with the current upsurge in demand in London and the south-east - where KPMG tells us we could already be experiencing a shortfall of 170,000 – it’s not surprising that the industry is turning to its tried-and-tested response. That, at least, is the anecdotal picture

from several recruitment consultants. “We’ve been asked by a big construction

company to find 50 roofers, scaffolders, groundworkers and carpenters,” says Nick Miller, managing director of recruitment firm HMA International, who also says he is searching European markets for quantity surveyors, civil engineers and planners. Miller says he would routinely cold-call major construction companies who would equally routinely ignore him – until his phone started ringing in the middle of last year.“We’re the sort of company [people] come to when they’re desperate,” he says candidly. His view is confirmed by Kevin Boakye

at Capstone Recruitment, who recruits for main contractors and developer- housebuilders. “Six months ago, it started to get increasingly desperate to get people on site to deliver contracts, so it’s now a case of looking outside the box. Previously clients would ask for knowledge of the UK market, now they’re more accepting of people coming from abroad. There’s definitely been a difference in the last six months.” In today’s market, that could mean professionally qualified staff from depressed EU markets such as Spain or Greece, or low-skilled site labour from the eastern arc of the EU. The “£1,000 a week” Portuguese

bricklayers who made headlines last year are hard to track down: no brickwork

“Six months ago, it started to get increasingly desperate to get people on site to deliver contracts, so it’s now a case of looking outside the box” Nick Miller, HMA International

contractors wanted to discuss the issue with CM. But it’s likely that they’re still being joined by their compatriots, according to Steve Turner, head of communications at the Home Builders Federation. “I recently did two interviews with Spanish and Portuguese TV – UK labour agencies had been advertising there so they were reporting on the opportunities here for bricklayers.” And what did he tell the TV journalists? “That there’s a big increase in housebuilding activity and people are looking to fill a lot of vacancies.” With immigration one of the rumbling issues in the pre-election debate and and a British Attitudes Survey in 2013 showing that 77% of the public want a reduction in migration, the industry knows that it’s positioned at the crux of the arguments. When rising numbers arriving in the UK are coinciding with an awareness of increasing inequality, the fact that construction could be charged with turning to overseas labour – and therefore arguably turning away from young UK nationals – means the issue is ripe for re-examination. So the CIOB threw a spotlight on the issues in its recent report CIOB Perspectives: An analysis on migration in the construction sector. Essentially, it concludes that construction benefits from the free movement of labour so


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