Rob Perrins also takes a swipe at the apprenticeship levy

The boss of one of the UK’s largest housebuilders believes the sector will ultimately benefit from Brexit by attracting more domestic talent.

Speaking at last week’s FT Future of Construction summit on London, Rob Perrins (pictured), chief executive of Berkeley Group, said he saw Brexit as “an opportunity to resolve some of the industry’s issues” with regard to closing the skills gap.

While political parties have all given assurances that EU-citizen employees working in the UK can remain following last year’s referendum vote, questions still remain over the freedom of movement for anyone looking for a job in the UK in future.

The construction sector’s reliance on overseas workers, particularly from the EU, means luring home-grown staff is expected to become more pressing.

In a debate on tackling the construction skills gap, Perrins said he saw the potential benefits of the UK’s departure from the EU, but warned against government interference. “This will be up to the industry [to sort out].”

In terms of training, Perrins argued that the industry lagged behind others – such as hairdressing – and only one in 10 on-site workers were undergoing training at any one time. He also argued the apprenticeship levy was simply a tax which would not work.

“Our industry won’t benefit from it, others will. It’s an additional tax. It lacks clarity and won’t add one more apprentice.”

Sarah Beale, chief executive of industry training body the CITB - which is currently under review by the government following the introduction of the apprenticeship levy - said the government’s enthusiasm for apprenticeships meant the construction sector had a “real opportunity to change the image of the industry and attract talent from a wider pool of talent than ever before”.

The industry should work together in what she described as a “war for talent”. “We are a very fragmented industry,” she added.

Paul Oatham, head of UK corporate human resources at Bechtel, said the sector could be doing a better job of communicating the benefits of working in the industry and promoting diversity. “A black or Asian engineering graduate is twice as likely to be jobless as their white equivalent. We should be telling the story better.”