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Feature Migration

>subcontracting arrangements we see in

Toronto: you’re moving from site to site and don’t know who your employer is and you’re tied to your employer for the duration of your visa. So there are also parallels with visa schemes we have in Canada,” she says. At the University of Westminster,

Migration in figures

l According to data from the UN’s Population Division, in 2013 the UK was sixth in the world in terms of international migrants, behind the USA, Russia, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Canada. It has moved up from seventh in 2010, and ninth in 2000.

l UN data also suggests that the share of international migrants in the UK population is about 12.4%, above the European average of 9.8%.

l UK net migration in the year to September 2014 was 298,000 – the highest level since 2005.

l According to the Oxford University’s Migration Observatory unit, in 2013 construction did not feature in the top 10 industries with the highest proportion of foreign-born workers.

l The top three industries with the highest proportions were: manufacture of food products 37.4%; manufacture of wearing apparel 33.8%; domestic personnel 31.2%.

l Between 2004 and 2013, the UK population rose almost 4.5 million, with more than half the increase, 2.5 million, from international net migration.

l The CITB’s latest employment forecast is that the industry will need to recruit 224,000 new entrants between 2015-19.

Professor Linda Clarke is examining another factor in the debate: are workers from the EU and further afield preferred on site because they receive better training in their home countries? Clarke’s research certainly leads her to think so, and that the UK should try harder to emulate its broadly-based skills training. “The Polish [college-based] system is

very broad, and that’s what the employers here like – they say Polish workers are more adaptable. Training here is very driven by what employers need, but employers don’t know about training,” she argues. And when young people do find their

way to a construction course at an FE college, the employer-led system lets them down again. “We’ve just supervised a PhD student who looked at what happened to 300 trainee electricians in the east London boroughs over the period of the Olympics, and most couldn’t get an apprenticeship place or work experience on site.” Of the minority who did find work at the Olympics, Clarke reports that only one was from a black or ethnic minority background. With such low numbers embarking

on apprenticeships in construction trades – just 15,890 starting last year – contrasting with the many thousands of students on construction-related courses at FE colleges who find it difficult to get jobs, Clarke believes that the lack of integration is hampering skills and career development for UK nationals.

The view from the EU But at Brussels-based FIEC, the European Construction Industry Federation (the voice for construction industry associations across the EU ) director for social affairs Domenico Campogrande stresses that it’s not just the UK struggling to recruit and train young people, as most European


industries face similar problems in setting up a skills pipeline for the future. “Most of the member states say it [youth skills shortages] is a problem – there isn’t a country that says ‘our young people are keen to come to our industry’. It’s worrying in the medium to long term with the ageing population –in Germany that’s certainly the case.” In fact, there’s a whole website – – devoted to the initiatives trialled in different EU countries. UK policymakers might want to explore Germany’s “Builders Wanted!” campaign for the under-sixes; Denmark’s “Build a House” for primary school children; Belgium’s internships for high-school pupils, or Latvia’s Construction Industry Council of Experts, charged with creating a new system of vocational training. So if our training pathways might not be doing very well at attracting and qualifying young people, it doesn’t look as if our European neighbours are doing much better. And Campogrande also points out that

migration flows are more complex than we might assume. “It’s not just people from eastern Europe going to the UK – there’s a high level of Polish workers in Belgium, and also Austria and Germany.” Meanwhile, low levels of construction activity in Spain are resulting in an exodus of Spanish workers, and their contractors are increasingly bidding for work in France, he says. The dovetailing issues of skills shortages, employment patterns and the growing numbers of migrant workers in UK construction plc, reappear in different guises all over the world, from Canada to Germany, Qatar to Poland. It doesn’t make it any easier to create an industry that’s fair to everyone to wants to work here, but at least we can recognise that we’re grappling with issues that originate deep in the principles of the market economy and the free movement of labour - and that stemming migratory flows is unlikely to be workable or desirable. CM

“It’s not just people from eastern Europe going to the UK – there’s a high level of Polish workers in Belgium, and also Austria and Germany ” Domenico Campogrande, FIEC

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