Restrictions on foreign labour could send costs sprialling and put projects in jeopardy

A ‘hard’ Brexit could see the British construction workforce lose out on the equivalent of the entire population of Luton by 2020.

New research from Arcadis has found that nearly 215,000 workers could disappear from housebuilding and infrastructure if the UK pursues a ‘hard’ Brexit.

However, the consultant warned that even a ‘soft’ Brexit could see the industry miss out on 135,000 workers at a time when the skills gap is acute.

Arcadis believes that a ‘hard’ Brexit, such as extending the points-based system currently in place for non-EU migrants, could see the number of EU construction workers entering the UK fall significatntly. The firm believes EU nationals leaving the industry would not be replaced at the same rate by new EU workers.

The construction industry is heavily reliant on unskilled or semi-skilled workers from abroad and any restrictions on this could send costs rising and stall or cancel new projects stalled.

Arcadis believes to mitigate this impending crisis the industry rapidly needs to modernise and accelerate its use of technology and off-site manufacturing.

James Bryce, director of workforce planning at Arcadis, said: “What started as a skills gap could soon become a skills gulf.

“The British construction sector has been built on overseas labour for generations, and restrictions of any sort - be it hard or soft Brexit - will hit the industry.

“In recent decades, there has been a massive push towards tertiary education which has seen a big drop in the number of British people with the specific skills we need. If we cannot import the right people, we will need to quickly ramp up training and change the way we build.”


Net drop in EU migration to British housebuilding and infrastructure construction

 Hard BrexitRangeSoft Brexit

*Based an assumed 2016 house building and infrastructure workforce of 1.5m