New figures from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) reveal that the UK construction industry could lose almost 200,000 EU workers post-Brexit should Britain lose access to the single market, putting some of the country’s biggest infrastructure and construction projects under threat.

RICS has cautioned that for Brexit to succeed, it is essential to secure continued access to the EU Single Market or to put alternative plans in place to safeguard the future of the property and construction sectors in the UK.

Latest RICS figures show that 8% of the UK’s construction workers are EU nationals, accounting for some 176,500 people. 30% of construction professionals surveyed revealed that hiring non-UK workers was important to the success of their businesses.

The UK is already in the grip of a construction skills crisis. While some overseas professionals, such as ballet dancers, are regarded as critical by the UK Government, and are therefore prioritised during the visa application process, construction professions have not yet been added to the ‘UK Shortage Occupations List’. RICS is warning that this could already be placing the UK’s predicted £500 billion infrastructure pipeline under threat and must be addressed as a priority.

When asked about the effectiveness of current plans to address the UK’s long-term skills shortages, 20% of respondents felt that apprenticeship schemes were not effective at all.

Jeremy Blackburn, RICS Head of UK Policy said “These figures reveal that the UK construction industry is currently dependent on thousands of EU workers. It is in all our interests that we make a success of Brexit, but a loss of access to the single market, has the potential to slowly bring the UK’s £500 billion infrastructure pipeline to a standstill. That means that unless access to the single market is secured or alternative plans are put in place, we won’t be able to create the infrastructure needed to enable our cities to compete on a global stage. We have said before that this is a potential stumbling block for the Government, which is working to deliver both its Housing White Paper and Industrial Strategy.

“A simple first step would be to ensure that construction professions, such as quantity surveyors, feature on the ‘UK Shortage Occupations List’. Ballet dancers won’t improve our infrastructure or solve the housing crisis, yet their skills are currently viewed as essential, whereas construction professionals are not.

“Of course, we must also address the need to deliver a construction and property industry that is resilient to future change and can withstand the impact of any future political or economic shocks — key to that will be growing the domestic skills base. As the industry’s professional body, we are working with Government and industry to develop that skills base, building vital initiatives, such as degree apprenticeships, in our sector to drive the talent pipeline forward. This survey reveals that more work needs to be done to promote the indisputable benefits of these schemes to industry — RICS intends to take this forward as a priority.”

A new runway at Heathrow will put even more pressure on a declining construction workforce, a leading construction advisor has warned.

Mark Farmer, chief executive of Cast, a consultancy and the author of a government review into construction, has said that without radical steps to address its skills shortage, Britain’s construction sector will struggle to redevelop Heathrow alongside the existing pressures of increased housing delivery and other demands likely to be placed on it such as HS2 and Hinkley Point.

Best-case scenarios have put the third runway a decade away – by which time Britain could have lost 20 – 25% of the workforce through retirement and lack of new entrants. All of these factors are likely to be made worse by Brexit. Mark Farmer, who authored the government-backed review, believes serious reforms are needed in order to deliver large infrastructure projects.

The report, titled ‘Modernise or Die: time to decide the industry’s future’, highlights construction’s dysfunctional training model, its lack of innovation and collaboration as well as its non-existent research and development (R&D) culture. Low productivity continues to hamper the sector, while recent high levels of cost inflation, driven by a shortage of workers, has stalled numerous housing and infrastructure schemes as they have become too expensive to build.

With more people leaving the industry each year than joining, the construction workforce is shrinking, placing increasingly severe constraints on its capacity to build housing and infrastructure. Reliance on a fractured supply chain and self-employment also means there is little incentive for contractors to invest in long term training for the labour force.

Crucially, the sector hasn’t raised its productivity in decades so urgently needs to explore ways to make the work less labour intensive, such as through offsite construction. This, in turn, could make a career in the sector more attractive for young people by moving the work from building sites to digitally enabled working in factories.

Mark Farmer, report author and chief executive of Cast, said “Major infrastructure projects like the third runway are crucial for economic growth and this is great news for long term construction demand in what is a very cyclical industry. However, major government infrastructure commitments like this alongside their significant housebuilding ambitions mean more than ever that we need to take affirmative action in addressing the critical issues facing construction’s productivity, resource base and delivery models.”

41% of young women aged 13–22 believe their gender will hold them back in the workplace; however, they claim that the rise of female leaders, such as Theresa May and Hilary Clinton, could help to change sexist attitudes and encourage workplace diversity, according to a new YouGov survey commissioned by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

While almost half of young women believed that their gender would count against them in the workplace, young men seem to think differently, with 20% saying that they expect to earn more in their careers than their female counterparts.

But there may be hope on the horizon in the form of Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon. 43% of young women believe that having a female Prime Minister or President will encourage gender diversity at work. Of those surveyed, 73% believe that the attitudes and behaviour of CEOs and senior leaders are important in encouraging equal numbers of men and women.

The property and construction industries were perceived by respondents to be among the least diverse with 29% of girls saying that the sector was purely for men. Among the industries perceived as most diverse are retail and health, with law and construction cited as the least.

Amanda Clack FRICS, RICS President said “Speaking as a woman in construction, I can say with confidence that this is not just a job for boys; however, the need for diversity at the very top is clear. When I first entered the profession there were no strong female role models. Yet, according to our survey, a quarter of young women believe they will do better under the leadership of a female CEO and they want to see visible female role models.

“Strong female roles models will help to attract greater diversity into the industry because the more we celebrate individual success, the more surmountable barriers become. With a female Prime Minister in the UK and a woman in the running for the US Presidency, we are seeing great female role models at the very highest levels.”