The North West must recruit nearly 38,000 construction workers each year between now and 2021 if it is to create the homes and infrastructure the region needs, according to the latest report from Arcadis.
Failure to address the skills gulf could see the earnings of some tradespeople soaring and the rise of the “MINTED” workforce – the “Most in Need Trades Earning Double”.
The Arcadis Talent Scale has been developed to measure the true extent of the skills crisis across the UK’s infrastructure and house building workforce. It takes into account regional variations in demand, current employment figures, estimates as to the increase in labour requirements, and projected attrition rates as people retire and leave the industry.
The study reveals that, of the 400,000 workers that need to be recruited nationally across the UK, nearly 10%, some 37,976, of these need to be located in the North West if the region is to meet its housing and infrastructure requirements.
When it comes to individual skills, the greatest need in the North West is for carpenters and joiners, where demand accounts for nearly one sixth of all resource requirements in the region. Plumbers, electricians, and painters are also in high demand, particularly in the labour-intensive housebuilding sector. Meanwhile, the report identifies a need for nearly 400 civil engineers and 300 programme managers to deliver the region’s planned infrastructure.
Arcadis, which has a large office in Piccadilly Place, Manchester, said the figures were independent of the impact of any eventual Brexit deal, which is likely to further increase the strain. In the event of a ‘hard’ Brexit scenario – for instance, extending the points-based system currently in place for non-EU migrants – the number of EU construction workers entering the UK could fall at the rate of attrition. If this were to play out, 215,000 fewer people from the EU would enter the infrastructure and house building sectors between now and 2020, further exacerbating the existing labour shortage.
Jonathan Moore, city executive for Manchester at Arcadis, explained: “What we have is not a skills gap; it is a skills gulf. Systemic underinvestment in the nation’s workforce has contributed to a reduction in UK productivity. Construction employment is already down 15 percent on 2008, and the knock-on impact for our region could be severe.
“If we are to realise the potential of a Northern Powerhouse it is imperative that our region is in a strong position to deliver on long-term economic growth and related infrastructure programmes. However, if we don’t have the right people to build the homes and infrastructure we need then, quite simply, the North West is going to struggle to maintain its competitive position in the UK.
“Unfortunately, overcoming a skills shortfall as vast as the one we now face can’t be achieved through education and technology alone. Of course, we need to bring more new talent into the industry but, in the short term, construction will also need to look at those currently working in other industries and dramatically improve its efficiency.
“On top of this, as part of any Brexit deal, the government can help by looking to secure the rights of EU workers currently operating in British construction, simplifying the visa system and minimising the tax burden on workers and business. If this fails to happen, many of the projects that the region has earmarked for economic stimulus could prove more difficult and costly to resource. In the worst case scenario these projects could fail to be delivered at all, reducing our ability to grow the North West economy and limiting investment in the industry.”