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Training for indigenous workforce is essential

Industry bodies are calling on the sector to acknowledge the positive contribution migrant labour has had on their businesses by investing in training initiatives designed to up-skill the indigenous workforce.


The calls were made by the HVCA and Building Engineering Training Services (BEST) after a House of Lords Select Committee report, The Economic Impact of Immigration, said it could find no evidence to support business and Government claims that “immigration is indispensable to filling labour and skills shortages”.


Instead, the report warned that “immigration designed to address short-term shortages may have the unintended consequence of creating the conditions that encourage shortages of local workers in the longer term”.


It went onto stress that although the evidence is limited “there is a clear danger that immigration has had some adverse impact on training opportunities and apprenticeships offered to British workers”.


Neil Carberry, head of employment at the Confederation of British Industry, dismissed the implications of the finding: “In the global economy, businesses need a flexible immigration system that allows them to source the skills they need when appropriate UK-born staff cannot be found,” he said. 

However, Sarah Wicks, the HVCA’s head of education and training, accepted the assertion. “We recognise that currently many of our members look to use migrant labour to fulfil requirements due to the lack of available skills in our own workforce,” she said.


“But we also recognise and regularly communicate to our members that although clearly benefiting employers in the short-term, immigration that is in the best interests of individual employers is not always in the best interests of the economy as a whole. Any investment in migrant labour should not be to the detriment of employing and training our own indigenous workforce which will provide the only long-term solution to our industry’s skills shortage.


Ms Wick said employers should consider up-skilling the UK workforce and increase the recruitment of apprentices. “These types of initiative would give industry a sustainable UK workforce with the key skills needed to coach and mentor our new entrants and to develop skills to lead and excel within the new technologies which industry constantly face,” she concluded.


Mark Brenner, BEST chief executive, agreed and added: “Contractors should now consider investing in the development of longer-term skills banks from which they could draw and use from job to job. If we had an indigenous bank of skills, the mobility of the workforce would allow for the servicing of all major projects, wherever they are in the UK.


“What I’d like to see is a reverse of the current situation. Why don’t we have a large bank of well-trained, skilled local UK workers who can be used to fulfil the majority of our contract requirements, and any skills gaps we could fill with the migrant workforce?


He concluded: “This twin-track approach, referred to throughout the Lords report, has to be the way forward because of the commercial realities. Perhaps the Government could consider making this approach a condition on all large public sector construction contracts, and ensure that it is policed effectively? Perhaps a training fund could be applied to all long-term and/or large sites administered through an industry-led skills academy to ensure a continuous stream of new skilled entrants into the UK skills bank.”