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Migration is an intrinsic part of our economy

ANYONE WHO LIVES in London or an urban area will be subliminally aware that the last decade or so has brought an increase in immigration to the UK: it’s evident on the shops and services, the languages we hear on the street or on public transport, and of course on construction sites. But looking at the data from the Labour

Force Survey by the government’s Offi ce of National Statistics brings a jolt of surprise: 16.5% of the working population in the UK is “foreign born”, up from 13.5% in 2010. Of course, that includes anyone born overseas, including people who have lived in the UK for decades and are naturalised citizens. According to Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, the percentage of the workforce who were “foreign citizens” in 2013 was 9.3%, up from 3.5% in 1993. The number of overseas workers in

construction – although high in absolute terms due to the size of the industry – is certainly no higher as a proportion of the workforce than in other major employment sectors. In 2014, 11% of NHS workers were foreign citizens, rising to 14% of clinically qualifi ed staff and 26% of hospital doctors. And according to the Migration

Observatory, in 2013 construction did not feature in the top 10 industries with the highest proportion of foreign-born workers. The top fi ve were: manufacture of food products 37.4%; manufacture of wearing apparel 33.8%; domestic personnel 31.2%; accommodation 27.8%; food and beverage sector 27.1%. In CM’s look at the subject, and also in the recent CIOB Perspectives report, it

comes across that construction migration is both deeply embedded in the way we operate, and intrinsically linked to our free-market economy. In other words, if there was a political will to “do something” to reduce this, it would go against decades of policies towards liberalising markets – which also opened up overseas export markets for the UK industry. What if, though, there were moves to

ring-fence more jobs for UK workers? Recent efforts to boost training and apprenticeships are having some effect, but there’s unlikely to be a major shift while the industry is made up of long chains of SMEs that are weakly positioned to offer both training and long-term career progression. So should it be the industry’s goal to change this structure, to cut the value of subcontracted work from 80% of projects’ value, to perhaps 50%? Again, it’s hard to see that happening: not when we have a nation that prizes entrepreneurship and self-direction, competition and innovation. On construction migration, employment

patterns and UK skills training, we are dealing with global phenomena and deep structural issues rather than problems that will be immediately responsive to “initiatives”. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t do everything in our power to boost our home-grown skills. Just that, instead of beating ourselves up when it's diffi cult, we should recognise the true nature of the problems. And also, that we should be loudly celebrating the successes we do achieve.

Elaine Knutt, editor More Construction Manager

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Communication is the key John Goulding MRICS, MCIOB Projects are being delayed for a number of reasons but the shortage of quantity surveyors is not one of them, in my opinion (Skills shortages aren't just a numbers game, CM March). I recently responded to a RICS editorial about the shortage of quantity surveyors by publicly offering to come out of semi- retirement to help the cause; I did not receive a single email. I am aware this is no less useful an indicator than some of the polls we read about, but at least I tried to gauge the problem. Having experienced skills shortage

on several projects I fi nd through proper management and common sense the problem can be overcome by initiating team communication. I often fi nd that fellow professionals do not always have the foresight of experienced quantity surveyors and often misunderstand the diffi culties faced by contractors. The real problem runs much deeper and

calls for a review of the inter-relationship between professionals responsible for design, construction and cost control. I have attempted to address this at local level and discovered quantity surveyors are often considered superfl uous by some professionals. Most calls I receive these days are from clients in trouble, often poorly advised and believing the role of a quantity surveyor to be more reactive rather than proactive. What a shame. RIBA, CIOB and RICS need a joint

review body (if they do not already have one) and communication should be stepped up quickly. I believe the role of quantity surveyor has been diminished to such an extent that action should be taken now, before it is too late. Professional quantity surveyors have

always been unpopular with some contractors but to be innocently treated with contempt by designers is really the last straw. I cannot remember the last time I was invited to an early design meeting; maybe in their eyes I was busy counting bricks somewhere!

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