The British construction industry could lose out on almost 215,000 workers if there is a ‘hard’ Brexit, according to research from Arcadis.
The report found that a ‘soft’ Brexit could see the industry lose out on 136,000 workers – around 78,000 fewer than in the hard Brexit scenario.
According to the research, which was conducted for Arcadis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, British construction could lose a volume of workers equivalent to the entire population of Luton (214,700 according to ONS 2015 estimates) in the event of a hard Brexit.
This is based on a potential scenario whereby there would be an extension of the points-based system currently in place for non-EU migrants.
If those EU nationals leaving the industry could not be replaced at the same rate by new EU workers, the research estimated there would be almost 215,000 fewer people from the EU would enter the infrastructure and housebuilding sectors between now and 2020, based on an assumed combined workforce of 1.5m.
Arcadis said that, were policies implemented on a sector-by-sector basis and allowing for a degree of EU migration into the sector, it expected around 135,000 fewer European nationals would relocate to British construction – a number equivalent to the population of Ipswich.
Arcadis director of workforce planning James Bryce said: “What started as a skills gap could soon become a skills gulf.
“The British construction sector has been built on overseas labour for generations, and restrictions of any sort – be it hard or soft Brexit – will hit the industry.
“Missing out on over 200,000 people entering the workforce could mean rising costs for business, and much-needed homes and transport networks being delayed.
“In recent decades, there has been a massive push towards tertiary education which has seen a big drop in the number of British people with the specific skills we need.
“If we cannot import the right people, we will need to quickly ramp up training and change the way we build.”
Mr Bryce added methods like robotics and offsite manufacturing have “never been taken as seriously as they should, but could well prove the difference”.
The Arcadis methodology was based on Article 50 being triggered in Q1 2017.
The research estimated future changes in workforce numbers based on the Construction Products Association’s central scenario for output forecasts from September.