The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) asked its members if the government allow more skilled labour from overseas into the UK: 48% of said yes to a relaxation of immigration laws and just 21% said no. 27% neither supported nor opposed the proposal.
The UK building industry needs to recruit and train 53,000 additional workers a year to meet construction demand, according to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB).
Around a third of FMB members are struggling to recruit carpenters/joiners, bricklayers and general labourers (39%, 35%, and 30% respectively).
The FMB survey seems to confirm that many bosses would prefer the shortcut of importing foreign labour than making the effort to develop home-grown talent. More immigration may also serve to suppress pay rates too.
Although FMB members want it to be easier to employ foreigners, one in five of them are actually laying people off at the moment. The state of trade survey found that 15% of FMB members reported an increase in the number of employees in their companies in the fourth quarter of 2022, with 19% saying it had decreased.
Other survey findings included a general decline in activity and enquiries.
FMB chief executive Brian Berry said: “The growing skills gap in the construction sector is a ticking time bomb that the government can’t afford to ignore. Whether that’s looking again at targeted immigration measures, supported by half of builders in the latest FMB state of trade survey, or using the spring budget to bring forward a comprehensive skills strategy to roadmap how we fill the gaps and train at scale, it’s time to act.
“This quarter’s FMB state of trade data shows some potentially worrying signs for every part of the construction sector with workloads and enquiries down significantly. Ambitious plans are needed to get small, local builders motoring. A first step is the need to unblock the planning system to get more homes built. There is also an urgent need to invest in greening our homes, with a long-term plan towards retrofitting the existing housing stock. This move would give construction businesses the certainty they need to invest.”