UK construction is in the grip of a skills shortage which is expected to be exacerbated if the country votes to leave the EU, it has been claimed.
But Lancashire’s army of small and medium sized contractors could help both the industry and themselves regardless of the outcome, says Simon John, construction specialist at Vincents Solicitors.
“Almost every poll of construction professionals results in the UK remaining part of the EU. There have been some high profile dissenting voices, the chairman of JCB to name but one, but arguments to stay have come from some of the UK’s leading construction firms and housebuilders.
“Access to labour is the primary concern, with many larger contractors worried about replacing those skilled tradespeople who have made the most of the EU’s free travel, at a time when the British workforce is still recovering from the recession.
“The construction skills shortage is an issue that will continue to impact on the industry regardless of the referendum outcome. Construction is one of Lancashire’s biggest employers, with around 34,000 people working for contractors of varying sizes, along with many thousands more associated services, architects, surveyors, materials suppliers, and professional advisors.
“The Construction Skills network forecasts 6,650 extra construction workers per year are needed in the North West, or significantly more if a ‘leave’ vote restricts immigration.
“The scale of the shortage could in fact serve to slow the rate of new development.
“By looking towards investment in new staff, however, smaller contractors could hold the key to the solution. Although taking on an apprentice or junior employees can seem daunting at a time of uncertainty, it is a sensible strategy for business development.
“Main contractors are looking for subbies who not only offer a fair price but also, crucially, have the ability to deliver a quality job, on time. That apprentice could mean the difference between being able to take on the next contract or not, and will also serve to support the growth of an industry which faces being hard hit if the country chooses ‘Brexit’.