Sector - skills

Non-EU labour plugs skills gap

New research suggest that the government needs to make an urgent intervention in filling the construction skills gap as non-EU labour soars on site.

The latest Home Builders Federation’s Workforce Census highlights the problems of attracting home grown talent, with the proportion of overseas non-EU workers building new homes in the UK having almost doubled since the Brexit referendum.

The survey of more than 14,000 on-site workers shows the reliance on foreign labour is greatest in the capital, with more than half of London’s workforce (51%) made up of EU/EEA nationals and 14% from other overseas nations.

The figures reveal:

  • Overseas workers account for almost 65% of London’s house building workforce, with 50.8% of on-site staff coming from EU countries
  • Millennials and Gen Z workers account for nearly 60% of respondents, with the most prevalent age group being 30 to 39 year olds – but with 24% of the workforce over 50, the industry is facing a retirement cliff edge in the coming years
  • Majority of female respondents are aged 20 to 29 and tend to be in more senior positions, indicating promising forecast for gender representation for the next generation of construction leaders

Despite industry successfully increasing housing delivery in recent years, labour availability is one of the major barriers to delivering the number of homes communities need with almost 60% of SME home builders reporting difficulties in recruiting site-based roles in HBF’s 2023 State of Play’ report.

With 30,000 more skilled workers required to build every additional 10,000 homes, there is growing urgency for government to invest in building and developing the house building workforce if it’s serious about achieving its 300,000 per annum target. As industry adapts at pace to deliver increasingly energy-efficient homes, funding in specialist training and education will be critical in developing the expert workforce required to deliver ever more technologically advanced and energy efficient new homes.

Just 1 in 4 students completing full-time construction courses currently go straight into employment on leaving further education, suggesting the UK training and education system is simply not giving the next generation the practical, employable skills needed.

The findings show overseas workers tend to be particularly prevalent in certain roles, including general labourers (28%) and painters and decorators (25%).

Meanwhile, the census illustrates a general trend of improved gender representation in younger age groups. More than 60% of female respondents were under 40, signaling an increasing appeal of construction-based careers among Millennial and Gen Z women.

Stewart Baseley, Executive Chairman of the Home Builders Federation says: “The home building industry is responsible for the employment of over 800,000 people at any one time both directly and via its extensive domestic supply chains.

“The industry continues to work to improve recruitment and retention within the workforce, including attracting new workers from different communities and improving the gender balance.

“As the country’s demand for energy-efficient homes grows, government must introduce measures to ensure students leave the education system ready for work. Investment in the skills and education of the labour force is critical in ensuring this country has the knowledge and expertise needed to deliver the homes of the future.”

HBF is calling on government to work with industry to attract, train and develop a skilled and expert home building workforce.

If you would like to read more stories like this, then please click here