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Feature Migration

Total (millions)

1975 33.6 1990 36.4 1995 36.4 2014 40.6

UK-Born Immigrant Immigrant share (millions)

31.2 33.7 33.4 33.9

Source: ONS Labour Force Survey

Echoing the Canadian experience Take Canada for instance, which has a high presence of immigrant site workers, drawn to a construction boom fuelled by the tar sands industry. “There are some real parallels between the London and Toronto – we saw a growth in self-employment after the 2008 crash and it’s become a systemic part of the labour market here,” says Michelle Buckley, assistant professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough. There has also been a recent reliance on migrant labour: Buckley describes how “construction has used the Federal Skilled Workers Program to fill gaps in the construction workforce,” mentioning highly skilled labour from India, and labourers from Brazil and Uruguay. But because their visas tie them to employers, she says, “it’s not a free labour market – there are issues around vulnerability”. Now the construction boom has been hit by falling oil prices, and in response to calls for “Canadian jobs for Canadian citizens” the government is currently implementing a new policy of restricting low-skilled migrants’ work permits to just four years and barring them from the country for another four – although the “four by four” initiative has provoked a political backlash. Buckley has made a specialism of

studying immigration and construction markets: previous work looked at London, Toronto and the Gulf, and she also plans to study Chiang Mai in Thailand. She points out that there are often uncomfortable parallels between the construction employment in the west and the booming Gulf states. “There’s a tendency to look at poor

conditions for migrant labour as a Gulf phenomenon, but it’s also driven by the fact we have multinational Canadian or UK contractors who take their ways of doing business with them [to the Gulf]. So yes, they take positives, you have voluntary safety campaigns there. But at the same time, you see similar labour


(millions) 2.5

2.7 3.0 6.7

percentage 7.3%

7.5% 8.2%


The view from the recruitment consultants

Nick Miller, managing director, HMA International

We’ve been hired by a Tier 1 contractor in the London area to source scaffolders, carpenters and brickies from Eastern Europe – so that they can then provide a labour pipeline to the Tier 2 sub- contractors taking on their work. They’re trying to widen the skills pool available. We could easily get them 50 Polish workers who’re already here, but they don’t want to poach from other organisations. They’re also short of skills in Poland,

but a big issue there is security [of employment] and getting paid. Yes, you can get work on a site in Katowice, but then the company goes bust. So the driver for coming over here is they know they’re going to get paid, not because they’re getting vast amounts of money. So you can still get great people from Poland to come over here for that reason. We have agents on the ground - in

“The UK workforce is a transient one – just as UK brickies used to go to Germany, or Irish people came across in the 1900s” Steve Turner, Home Builders Federation

Poland, Spain and Romania - and they will basically go along and meet people, carry out drugs and document checks, then forward it to the office in London. Then we might send clients out to Bucharest or Katowice, they’ll be met by the agent who’ll facilitate the interviews at hotels, or they can interview on Skype. Then they’ll bring them over to the UK to see where they’ll be living. We’re recruit anyone from an estimator earning £25k to a project manager on £85-90k. When they get here we arrange a CSCS

or in some cases a CISRS card, and notify the tax authorities – our clients are very insistent on this. But in some cases, the employer is actually a labour hire agency. At the higher end, the engineers all have

jobs and so they need prising out. And they think that no one likes them in the UK, that’s usually the biggest obstacle to taking up a job offer. We’re currently looking at Spain for high-end engineering skills.

Jim Roach, managing director and founder, ARV Solutions, Bristol

There are massive skills shortages across the board, but specifically in estimators, CAD designers, QSs and technical sales people in the construction industry. Everywhere is short, but those are the extremes. At the trades level, we’re looking for timber frame and steel erectors. But even though there are skills shortages, it’s not a crisis – because there are a lot of poorly managed companies out there, and businesses that get abused and then go bust so people need to

move. GB Building Solutions [going into administration] will have a knock-on effect on their suppliers – including steel frame and timber sub-contractors – so if their staff come on to the market they’ll be snapped up. Are we looking abroad for skills?

Crikey, yes. For all of the manual skills we have a broad mix of UK and East European people on our books, and for technical roles we’re seeing a lot of Portuguese and Spanish people. If they’re already here in the UK it’s easier, and their English tends to be better, but sometimes people abroad see our website and get in touch – but we don’t approach them. Recruitment from abroad has increased in the last year or so, but actually we’ve placed fewer designers because of lack of availability.

Duncan Bullimore, director, Hays Construction

Demand for skilled construction professionals across the UK has increased, and looking overseas for these people is just one way employers are attempting to meet this demand. This has been fairly consistent in the past nine to 12 months, as we generally find that skilled migrant workers are looking for long-term work and assimilation into the UK, which is also more beneficial to the UK construction industry, rather than sharp fluctuations. We have seen from the findings of our

UK Salary & Recruiting Trends 2015 report, that just 11% of construction employers had recruited from overseas to address skill shortages in their organisation in the past year, yet 31% had recruited apprentices. Recruiting from overseas is one part of the solution to equip the industry with the skilled professionals it needs, but the long-term priority for the majority of organisations is to create a home-grown pipeline of new talent into the industry. The labour market in construction is

proving to be sufficiently elastic that a crisis is far from upon us.

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