Parliamentarians have welcomed a new report on migration in the construction sector by the Chartered Institute of Building.
The research highlights the challenges posed by a growing skills gap in the industry, calls for greater emphasis on training and warns against overreliance on immigrant labour.
Business Minister Nick Boles, shadow business minister Iain Wright, and Liberal Democrat MP Gordon Birtwistle spoke at the launch of the report, which took place in Parliament yesterday evening.
Mr Birstwistle stressed the importance of careers advice in encouraging more young people into the construction sector.
“My dad said to me if you have a trade you will always have a job and that’s true. It was true then and it is true now.
“So, if the CIOB have a plan for the young people of this country please get involved with careers advice…
“We really need the people to be able to do the jobs that this country needs,” he said.
While the CIOB acknowledges the necessity of a flexible workforce and welcomes the current growth in the industry it also stresses the need for investment in young people in the UK, with a focus on apprenticeships.
Conservative MP Oliver Colvile, who attended the event, praised the Government’s record on increasing apprenticeships, saying they had “risen up the political agenda,” but conceded that more needed to be done to boost housebuilding.
“Certainly all the parties recognise the need to build more homes and to build businesses as well.
“But in order to do that we have got to have the land and the materials there like steel and things like that too. We also have to make sure we have got a significant amount of skills…
“Because there is no point in us all talking about how wonderful this is but then not actually making sure that there are people that can do that work. Training is very important,” he said.
Fellow Tory Peter Aldous, who also spoke at the event, said there was a role for both immigration and training in delivering the skills needed by the construction sector.
“I think the two actually go together,” he said.
It is an industry, he added, in which there is “always a danger that when the good times come there is not enough labour out there and up go the prices and it gets incredibly competitive…
“It would be foolish to rely on migrant labour and it is very important that we invest in skills and we provide people with a real opportunity because there may not be that opportunity in the future.”
Liberal Democrat MP Sir Andrew Stunell welcomed the research and said it highlighted the positive aspects of immigration.
“I think it’s a really interesting report. As a liberal democrat I have recently completed a report on migration policy for our party which is drawing up plans for the next parliament and what should be done, and I think this is a very timely reminder that migration is a real benefit to Britain…
“The reality is the building industry is very cyclical. It has its highs and its lows and so it automatically needs to have a flexible workforce.
“That of course is another area where migration can help because people can come in the boom time, the peak time, and they can go elsewhere in the trough time. But getting that right is a challenge of course.
“It is a challenge for the industry and individual contractors and it is a challenge for governments thinking about the right policies,” he said.
Also in attendance was Labour MP Steve Rotheram who, in
a recent article for Politics Home, called for better law enforcement, protecting workers from exploitative employment practices, to “ease the tensions associated with migrant workers”.
The report recommends reducing migration into construction jobs by investing in training, alongside mentoring and developing young people in the UK to assist them into the sector.