A major CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) report into migration and the construction industry has revealed that a third of firms employ migrant workers, saying they have comparable skills to British workers and are more readily available. Some employers (22%) also said they have a better work ethic. But only 1% of firms said they specifically look to recruit migrants.

The large-scale, GB-wide research, by CITB, IFF Research and the Institute of Employment Research at Warwick University, is the first to bring together the views of construction firms, employment agencies and migrant workers. Researchers conducted over 600 interviews to provide a detailed and up-to-date picture of the role migrant workers play in the construction industry.

Over a third of employers who employ staff from outside the UK say they do so because there are not enough skilled applicants from the UK, rather than for cheaper labour. The issue is magnified in London where one in two employers say they are ‘very dependent’ on migrant workers, compared to around one in six in Yorkshire and the Humber.

The study dispelled some common misconceptions around migrant pay, skills levels and occupations. It showed that only 1% of employers say that migrants are cheaper and that the majority of non-UK construction workers are skilled, with over two-thirds holding a construction-related qualification. Two-thirds of employment agencies reported that migrant workers have similar skills to their UK counterparts.

Professor Anne Green who carried out the research at Warwick University’s Institute of Employment Research, says “The UK construction sector relies on migrant labour alongside UK workers to meet demand. This is especially the case in London. Migrant labour plays a key role in offering flexibility for the sector to respond in a timely fashion to project requirements. This means that the future immigration policy matters, as does training of UK workers.”

The research also showed that while the largest number of migrant workers (22%) are general labourers (22%), there is a wide spread across many skilled areas such as architects (15%), carpenters/joiners (13%), plasterers (13%), bricklayers (11%), and directors/managers/supervisors (9%). A similar spread of occupations was reported by non-UK workers themselves.

The workforce is still mainly British, however, with only 1 in 8 construction workers born outside the UK. One in 15 or 140,000 overall come from the European Union (EU). The majority come from Poland (39%) and Romania (26%) and is largely London-based.

The research found that three-quarters of migrant workers surveyed expect to be working in the UK in 12 months’ time, with only 1 in 20 expecting to move abroad, and over half expecting to work in the UK until retirement.

Recruitment agencies reported that EU nationals are more commonly placed than non-EU migrant workers and two in five agencies are expecting staff shortages due to Brexit. One quarter of employers reported at least one impact of Brexit on their company to date, with the most common being increased costs (12%), followed by project delays due to uncertainty and a lack of client investment.

London-based construction firms were more likely to report impacts because of Brexit including a lack of client investment (23%), project delays (19%) and staff shortages (13%).

Steve Radley, Director of Policy at CITB, says “Our detailed look at migration labour in construction illustrates how it gives employers the flexibility to respond rapidly to a range of skill needs. It shows that the construction workforce is still largely home-grown but migrant workers play a critical role, particularly in major projects and in London.

“While most firms are not reporting an impact from Brexit, those who employ migrants are concerned about the future availability of EU workers. But with over three quarters of construction workers expecting to stay in the next 12 months, we have breathing space to adapt to any changes in migration policy. While construction employers work with government on its future approach, we will support them to find new and better ways to attract, train and retain the workforce they need.

See the full report here.

A survey carried out by US recruitment firm Manpower has found that of more than 2,000 UK employers confidence among public sector firms had improved radically in the last three months, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Participating British businesses were asked how they viewed the jobs market and whether they had plans in the pipeline their workforce over the next 12 months. Those in the UK construction trade reported a net employment outlook of +11% for the final quarter of 2017.

That represents the strongest outlook of any UK sector and a 6% increase on the third quarter.

The Grenfell Tower fire in June spread through cladding on the building which subsequently failed safety tests, claiming at least 80 lives.

Many other public housing projects — predominantly high-rise buildings — have since failed safety tests due to unsafe cladding.

James Hick, managing director for Manpower Group Solutions, said expansion in the UK construction trade was driven by those bids to improve public housing.

Hick commented “Construction hiring often slows in the winter months, but the UK is set to buck the trend this year — our data suggests this could be the strongest fourth quarter for hiring since 2005.

“Some of this work is the urgent testing and repair that is being carried out up and down the country on much of Britain’s public housing stock.

“The state of housing in the country is under the microscope like never before and the need for both building and remedial work have caused demand in the construction industry to shoot up.

“The tough reality lurking beneath all these positive indicators is that these hiring intentions may not come to fruition because of difficulties attracting and retaining skilled employees.”

  • Construction sector confidence also up, boosted by social housing repairs
  • Skills shortage time-bomb lurks on the horizon
  • Hotels and restaurants sector slumps as consumer spending dips

Against the backdrop of record employment and ongoing Brexit negotiations, ManpowerGroup reveals that employers have recorded a one point uptick in optimism with a national Outlook of +6%. A surge in positivity among public sector employers is a key factor in the improved national picture, with hiring intentions in this sector up 4 points to +2%, the biggest rise since 2015.

The ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey is based on responses from 2,100 UK employers. It asks whether employers intend to hire additional workers or reduce the size of their workforce in the coming quarter. It is the most comprehensive, forward-looking employment survey of its kind and is used as a key economic statistic by both the Bank of England and the UK Government.

James Hick, Managing Director for ManpowerGroup Solutions commented “This is the first time in over a year that public sector hiring plans have been in positive territory. June’s general election outcome was seen in part as a rejection of austerity, and it looks like the public sector is powering on, as hiring ramps up. At the beginning of the year there were 86,000 vacancies in the NHS; the government recently announced that it will train an additional 1500 doctors a year and create 20,000 new mental health posts. With the health service so heavily dependent on EU nationals, these hiring targets are going to be extremely difficult to meet. And that’s just the NHS – there are also tens of thousands of vacancies in other government departments.”

High demand for construction workers is also buoying national jobs optimism. Construction is the most upbeat sector this quarter, up six points to an Outlook of +11%. Hick continues: “Britain’s builders are as optimistic now as at any time since the financial crisis. Construction hiring often slows in the winter months, but the UK is set to buck the trend this year – our data suggests this could be the strongest fourth quarter for hiring since 2005. Some of this work is the urgent testing and repair that is being carried out up and down the country on much of Britain’s public housing stock. The state of housing in the country is under the microscope like never before and the need for both building and remedial work have caused demand in the construction industry to shoot up.”

However, there are also signs that the positive effects of these short to medium-term factors are hiding real pressure points in the labour market as chronic skills shortages and a squeeze on disposable incomes could prick the good news bubble.

Hick explains “The tough reality lurking beneath all these positive indicators is that these hiring intentions may not come to fruition because of difficulties attracting and retaining skilled employees. Take construction, where companies are reporting a stronger pipeline of work than they have for years. However, without a pool of skilled workers to actually do the work, buildings will go unbuilt and projects will flounder. There is lots of talk around what we need to do to fix the UK’s ailing housing market at present but politicians’ promises are just hot air without the essential skilled talent needed to deliver these programmes.”

“The housing market holds another potential pressure point once interest rates inevitably start to rise. Wage growth has also been lagging inflation in the past few months and this gap looks likely to increase. People are starting to feel the pinch, and possible rising interest rates will only exacerbate this. The early signs of this can be seen in the 6 point slump in the Hotels and Restaurants sector, which is heavily dependent on discretionary consumer spending. We have recently seen restaurant chains such as Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie’s Italian” brand closing sites and some restaurant brands are scrapping expansion plans as consumer spending looks set to dip and the competition in this crowded market gets tighter.”

Regionally, confidence in London, where housing and the broader cost of living is the highest, has halved to +4 since last quarter. The East of England forecast tops the charts at +11, while employers in the South East maintain their confident streak with an Outlook of +10. Another winner is Northern Ireland following the DUP-negotiated “supply and demand” deal resulting in a cash injection of at least £1 billion. This has already boosted hiring optimism in Northern Ireland, where employers report a surprise jump ahead of the UK national average to +7% this quarter.

A lack of focus on bolstering the workforce could push construction firms out of business, according to industry experts One Way.

An analysis by the specialist rail and construction recruitment consultancy found that firms are recruiting on a short term basis and are therefore forced to pay day rates that are well above the standard rate. Insolvency specialists, Begbies Traynor, recently published its latest ‘Red Flag’ report which found that over 40,000 construction companies were operating in a state of ‘significant’ financial distress at the end of June. A year ago the number stood at 33,222.

Paul Payne, managing director of One Way, said “Far too many construction firms don’t have a plan in place for finding skills when they need them on a short term basis and are forced into a situation where they have to pay excessively high day rates just to get the staff they need. You can see why they do it, but by planning ahead, firms can source the best skills in the market, at a fairer price and avoid any unnecessary headaches. This doesn’t just make their lives easier when it comes to staffing projects, but also removes some of the excessive costs. When construction firms look to become more efficient they often analyse their raw materials suppliers, however those savings are relatively small in comparison to those that could potentially be saved by developing robust talent pipelines into the industry. These statistics highlight that firms are being pushed to the brink and planning effectively and concentrating on recruitment could help to significantly lower costs.”

“The main issue preventing them from building these routes into the field is that there simply aren’t enough people in the industry and very few firms are doing anything about it. That means there’s a limited supply of skills in the market and the individuals in demand can essentially name their price as they’re so highly sought after. By building talent pipelines and communities you can avoid these additional costs as you’ll have a pool of available talent to fall back on if required. The skills shortages are only going to get worse once we leave the European Union, so it’s crucial that firms start planning before it’s too late. We’ve launched two campaigns to boost the number of women and youngsters entering the construction industry respectively. However initiatives like this are few and far between and we need to see more proactive work taking place, otherwise staffing costs will continue to rise and firms could ultimately be forced out of business.”

Unite, the UK’s largest construction union, is calling for root and branch reforms of employment rights after new figures demonstrated bogus self-employment in construction is out of control.

A Freedom of Information request by Unite has revealed that in 2016/17 at least 1.076 million construction workers were paid via the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS), an eight per cent increase on the figure of 12 months ago when 992,973 were paid via CIS. In total 47 per cent of the entire construction workforce is now paid via CIS.

The sharp rise in workers operating via CIS demonstrates that the government’s hopes of reducing construction bogus self-employment has failed. In 2014 the government introduced measures that barred construction workers operating via engagers (employment agencies and payroll companies) from being self-employed.

CIS is the stand alone tax system for construction workers. Workers paid via the scheme are normally officially classified as self-employed although the nature of their engagement means that the vast majority are bogusly self-employed.

The bogusly self-employed have all the employment characteristics of an employee but are denied even the most basic employment rights such as holiday and sick pay and can be instantly dismissed without warning.

The principal beneficiaries of bogus self-employment are employers who do not pay employers’ national insurance contributions of 13.8 per cent and don’t have to pay employee benefits such as holiday pay.

Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary, of Unite said “These figures demonstrate that bogus self-employment in construction is out of control. Employers are simply ignoring the rules in order to line their pockets and deny workers their rights.”

The government’s 2014 reforms led to a huge increase in workers being paid via umbrella companies, which results in the worker having to pay both employers’ and employees’ national insurance contributions as well as a plethora of other deductions from their wages. The government has previously conservatively estimated there are 430,000 workers being paid via umbrella companies, the majority of whom work in construction.

The government’s much heralded Taylor Review, while calling for it to be clearer to “distinguish” between workers and self-employed workers fails to address how existing Treasury policies are creating bogus self-employment and causing worker exploitation.

A recent survey by the Joint Industry Board (JIB), that sets the standards for employment, welfare, and apprentice training in the electrical contracting industry, revealed that 84 per cent of electricians want to be directly employed, rather than employed via an agency in order to receive full employment rights, paid holidays and benefits.

Gail Cartmail added “We have huge numbers of construction workers being routinely exploited via the government’s own tax scheme and via umbrella companies and yet the Taylor Review has ducked these issues.

“Taylor talks about his seven principles for fair and decent work which includes workplace training and the health and wellbeing of workers but while the real employer can continue to divest themselves of their workforce and have no responsibility for them, his principles are nothing but warm words.

“The only way that workers will be treated fairly and decently is by introducing clear rules which ensure that workers are either genuinely self-employed or paid by a standard PAYE method. Without such a reform productivity in construction will remain low, accidents and ill health will be high and the industry will fail to train sufficient numbers of apprentices.”

“The recent survey by the JIB destroys the myth that construction workers want the flexibility to operate via agencies or be self-employed. What workers want is to do know they are going to receive a steady wage and have the security of regular employment.”

voestalpine Metsec plc has announced its plans to offer five more apprenticeships, with applications now open until the end of June.

Having employed nearly 50 engineering apprentices over the last two decades, the Black Country-based firm is continuing its commitment to bridging the skills gap and developing the next generation of engineers with its renewal of the award-winning training scheme.

Steve Giles, environmental, safety and training manager at Metsec, said “As an organization, we heavily focus on skills and best practice. We’re actively working towards ensuring 20% of our workforce comes from apprenticeships, and this year’s applications are a further commitment to that figure.

“As a leading specialist in cold roll forming, we believe the way to maintain our position of strength in the market is by passing our knowledge down and what better way than to continue our focus on nurturing young talent with a new round of apprenticeships.”

The apprenticeship scheme has seen success for both Metsec and its staff since its inception in 1998, with employees now at managerial and even director level within the business having started their careers on the scheme. Successful apprentices will learn basic metal working skills in the first year, with the opportunity to continue onto an advanced apprenticeship and obtain an NVQ Level 3.

Metsec is one of the few engineering companies to run an in-house apprenticeship scheme without external support and has previously been named Express & Star’s ‘Apprentice Employer of the Year’ and ‘Business of the Year’ at the Business is Good for the Black Country Awards.

Applications for the Metsec apprenticeship scheme are open now until the end of June, for apprentices to start in September.

For more information visit

The number of females in professional construction roles is less than many analysts predicted, according to a survey carried out by specialist construction recruitment firm, One Way.

In a survey of professionals from across the industry, the firm found that 65% of respondents work in a company where less than 5% of the workforce is made up of women in an actual construction role.

When asked about the challenges for women in construction, over half (58%) stated that businesses themselves are to blame due to a range of issues such as stereotyping in the recruitment process and a lack of commitment from employers. Just over a third (35%) felt that it simply isn’t a popular career choice for women.

The survey – carried out as part of the firm’s #GirlsAllowed campaign which aims to bring together those in construction and education outlets to encourage more girls into the sector – also revealed that the majority (83%) believe that a lack of construction career education in schools is creating a concerning gap in female talent.

Reassuringly, over 80% of those surveyed agreed that they would personally get involved in an initiative to help address the lack of women in construction.

Paul Payne, Managing Director of One Way, commented on the findings “What is clear from these results is that employers need to do more to both attract more women into the industry and embrace them once on board. The results of the survey clearly demonstrate that the sector has a bad reputation when it comes to hiring females and given the severity of existing skills shortages, this simply cannot continue. While we were expecting to find low levels of employment, some of the figures were certainly below our initial perceptions, which makes the need for greater collaboration through initiatives such as the #GirlsAllowed campaign more vital now than they have ever been.

“While it’s great to see so many respondents commit to taking more action, there were some concerning views that came to light that I feel need to be altered immediately. Aside from some of the gender stereotyping comments, other remarks suggested that some in the industry itself don’t think construction is a sector that women should be in. This is quite simply untrue and is an attitude myself and the team at One Way certainly want to turn around.”

The Minister for Women and Equalities, Justine Greening has welcomed figures showing the gender pay gap for the construction industry is now the lowest on record.

The Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, published by the Office for National Statistics, provides the most accurate data on the median average difference between men and women’s earnings. These statistics show that the construction sector has a gender pay gap of 16.3% – that’s 1.8% below the national average.

From next April the government will be taking action to tackle the gender pay gap by requiring all employers with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay and gender bonus gaps. This will help shine a light on the barriers preventing women from reaching the top.

The benefits of helping women to unlock their talents are huge – tackling the UK gender gap could add £150bn to our annual GDP in 2025. That’s an opportunity that neither government nor businesses can afford to ignore.

Ms Greening commented: “It is fantastic to see we now have the lowest gender pay gap on record. No woman should be held back just because of her gender.

“The changes we’ve made so that men and women can share their parental leave, the support we’re giving to get more women into the top jobs at our biggest companies and our drive to get more girls taking STEM subjects at school are all helping to reduce this gap.

“We’ve achieved amazing things but there’s more to do – that’s why we are pushing ahead with plans to require businesses to publish their gender pay and gender bonus gap for the first time ever from April next year.”

To help drive further progress and help eliminate the gender pay gap in a generation, the government is:

  • Introducing requirements for all employers with more than 250 members of staff to publish their gender pay and gender bonus pay gaps for the first time ever from April next year
  • Working with business to have 33% of women on boards by 2020 and eliminate all-male boards in the FTSE 350
  • Doubling the amount of free childcare available to working parents of three and four year olds, helping to remove the barriers that can prevent women from returning to the workplace.

This builds on the changes the government has already introduced to support women in the workplace, including:

  • Extending the right to request flexible working to all employees
  • Introducing a new system of flexible parental leave
  • Supporting women’s enterprise by helping female entrepreneurs start up and grow their own business
  • Increasing the National Living Wage, of which two-thirds of recipients are women.

Guest post from Managing Director of TDM Recruitment, Tom Morris:

At its pre-recession peak in 2008, the UK’s construction workforce was 2.58 million; a staggering amount. However even more confounding is the fact that by the end of quarter four last year, this had dropped by nearly 13 per cent to 2.25 million. The big problem is that those that were forced to leave the industry at the start of the recession have left a gaping skills gap behind them which is continuing to cause issues.

Before the recession hit, a variety of industry graduate training programmes were being run by contractors and developers in the residential sector and money was in plentiful supply. It was common practice for us to be arranging around 15 first interviews a week which now seems somewhat ridiculous given the way the industry has changed. Salaries were high and construction job openings were plentiful.

When the credit crunch hit in 2008, and the banking sector went into freefall, graduate training programmes were cut as being ‘non-core.’ They really didn’t get going again until 2013, and the old ways of actively promoting to universities to attract the best talent wasn’t until 2014.

The result was a four-year gap after the last tranche of graduates came into the industry before the crunch, and many of those arriving in 2007 and 2008 were shown the door when the recession hit. Now we are faced with an industry where those experienced late twentysomething and early thirtysomething graduates needed to team lead on projects are missing, and junior guys with perhaps only two or three years’ experience are being over promoted to fill the gap.

The worst irony is that now there is a lot of work to do to deliver on demand, particularly in the residential sector, but the new professionals aren’t there to deliver it, and many don’t want to return to the industry having been through a traumatic time in the late 2000s. At the same time there are lot of senior people who now want to step up to board level, meaning there is a excess of applicants for each position, and an oversupply of freelancers who left the industry during the recession and now command high rates and benefit from flexibility. This perfect storm has only begun to dawn on people relatively recently, but what can be done?

The way that some firms have tried to deal with this shortage in management skills is to throw money at the problem. However, it is hard to justify a £20,000 jump in salary for the same Senior Surveyor position in 12 months when the rest of the economy hasn’t kept pace. This sort of inflation-busting rise isn’t sustainable because the rest of the team is likely to want something similar and be demotivated if it isn’t given.

The construction industry had to make hard-headed commercial decisions as the recession bit into their profit margins, but some of those decisions are now coming home to roost in the form of the skills gap. Many staff were treated brutally, and some professionals with good experience are now reluctant to go back to work for the larger organisations which made large numbers of staff redundant, sometimes at very short notice.

The mind-set of candidates has changed and as a ‘sellers’ market’ employers need to be acutely aware of how. Before the recession they may have just looked at whoever was making the highest offer as salaries were very healthy, however graduates who have come into the industry since 2008 or perhaps knew people who went through a traumatic time have a different mind-set.

The experienced young candidates the sector desperately needs are much more focused on achieving genuine work-life balance and being part of an organisation with a strong set of values beyond simply making money. Recent graduates are from Generation Y and are asking employers ‘why would I want to work here?’ As the new graduate programmes will take some time to bed in, employers facing the challenge of delivering construction projects now need to be able to answer that question.

A South East based office refurbishment, design and build company is calling for a greater push to get more young people into the construction industry.

RAP Interiors, who are based in Kent, serve a number of clients in the South East, also working into London – so a local company with a national service, and have been growing rapidly. Part of this growth has meant that young people have been taken on as Apprentices to fill new important roles.

RAP Interiors Design Director Julie Anderson said “As we have grown, we have been able to take on young people as apprentices to train from scratch. It has been a challenge finding the right people to do this but we have been lucky and found three great employees who are closely mentored and beginning to take on more responsibility.”

“The problem is that many young people are not being made aware of the benefits of getting into work via this route, and perhaps being encouraged to stay on into 6th form and then go to University. Apprenticeships need to be promoted as a good career choice. They offer a greater chance for young people to hit the ground into the world of work, learn a trade, earn some money and hopefully build a career.”

“They also learn about working in a business setting which includes everything from people-skills, answering the phone to talking in meetings and representing the company. This is often missed when young people move on to further education.”

The three apprentices that were recently taken on are now part of the team. Marcus has become a Site Foreman but qualified in a Multi skilled Apprenticeship covering all trades, Conor is training to be a Quantity Surveyor and Estimator and finally, Ryan Clarke, who was taken on as a Digital Marketing Apprentice, has also been appointed Ambassador for Maidstone via training provider 3aaa.

Ryan said that working at RAP and becoming an Ambassador has built his confidence: “I have learned a lot as a digital marketing apprentice at RAP and this has helped build my confidence in the work-place. I am now comfortable talking in meetings and representing the company. I didn’t want to go to university and get into debt or sit around at home playing video games. I was made aware of a digital marketing course at 3aaa. This seemed like a good idea and I applied – which then led to me being taken on as an Apprentice at RAP. Following this I was surprised when the training provider 3aaa offered me the role of apprentice ambassador and I now go and speak to other young people about becoming an apprentice – which I really enjoy.”

A spokesperson from 3aaa said on Ryan’s appointment: “When Ryan first sent his application through to the Maidstone Academy we were impressed with his skill-set and his passion for digital marketing, he was so keen and eager to find an Apprenticeship, and committed to the programme immediately. Ryan has been chosen to be the Ambassador for the 3aaa Maidstone Academy for his continued effort and dedication, he is an absolute pleasure to have in the Academy, he gets on well with his peers and often offers his support to the class.”

Julie from RAP, says there is a real problem with getting the right people in the construction industry.

“We can see that the industry is improving with new construction taking place and more jobs being made available. This is a good sign that the economic climate is getting better. The challenge is that many young people fail to realise that there are a number of careers they can take up in this industry.”

“It is important that we have enough plumbers and carpenters, but it is also just as important to have marketing, IT and Design specialists. There is a huge crisis in the construction industry where there is a lack of people available and the average age is 55 on site. However, this also means it is good news for those who are qualified as they can demand up to £250 a day in certified trades.”

Colleges are some of the key providers of Apprenticeship training. East Kent college support the view that trained workers in construction can earn a good wage.

Jane Hughes, the head of East Kent College’s Virtual Campus, who oversees the apprenticeship offering said: “In Kent the construction industry is a huge employer, providing around 15 per cent of the county’s jobs. East Kent College works alongside business to identify skills shortages, and currently construction is one sector which is crying out for well trained, skilled professionals.”

“In much of East Kent a bricklayer with the correct training can earn up to £180 a day due to shortages in skilled staff. The skills shortage in construction is a growing issue, and one which makes the industry an ideal choice for those who want a good career.”

“East Kent College offers a wide variety of technical, vocational apprenticeship options to help young people break into the construction industry, and build a solid career for their future.”

Another provider, Mid Kent College, have set up the MidKent College JobShop to help. Assistant Principle Peter Webb said: “Many of our construction contacts in businesses across Kent entered their trade through an apprenticeship. As a result they understand the benefits that apprentices bring to their organisations, and recognise the fantastic opportunities that completing an apprenticeship can open up for young people.”

“We set up the MidKent College JobShop to help employers promote their vacancies to our work-ready candidates, and we work hard to promote the full range of career paths available in the construction sector. Construction companies need trade professionals, but also managers, administrators, accountants, customer service representatives and more. We see it as part of our responsibility to help young people appreciate the breadth of options available to them, and to provide them with the right skills and qualifications to make a positive impact at work in whatever role they function.”

RAP Interiors will continue their drive to support young people. Julie said: “The right foundations are being laid to train young people, we just need them to join the right schemes and take notice of the different jobs available in construction. Otherwise the skills crisis will only get worse.”

For further information please visit

Rap interiors