FIS has written to London mayor Sadiq Khan to follow up on his calls to create a temporary visa scheme for construction workers to tackle the double impact of Brexit and the pandemic on the building industry.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan is proposing that ministers create a Coronavirus Recovery Visa of at least a year, to help sectors struggling with shortages of workers, including construction.

Mayor Khan said: “Tackling London’s housing crisis has always been one of my top priorities since becoming Mayor. We’ve worked tirelessly over the last five years to get London building again, and the construction sector forms a key part of London’s Covid recovery plan. However, both our recovery and efforts to deliver the genuinely affordable homes Londoners desperately need could now be put at risk if there isn’t the skilled workforce available to build them.

“The Government must look beyond their current blinkered approach to immigration and recognise the impending crisis that is already enveloping one of our most vital industries.

“Training our own people to take on jobs in the construction sector is an admirable aim and one we’re working hard to meet but in the meantime, we need skilled tradespeople on site now to manage the short-term crisis and build a strong recovery.”

FIS has written a letter of support the the Mayor.  The organisation has repeatedly raised concerns with the Home Office over recent years that the points based immigration system fails to recognise core trades as “skilled workers”, lacks flexibility to manage “shortages” and has not factored in the impact of COVID on preparing for and now addressing labour concerns in the sector.   Often working on short notice or late in the programme, the sector is typified by rapid turnaround of projects and high levels of contingent workers, which I believe makes us more seriously impacted even than other parts of construction.

Pressure is most acute and well exemplified in the Dry Lining sector.  It is estimated there were approximately 60,000 people employed across the UK as Dry Liners at the start of 2020. To meet demand and address inevitable churn, the occupation has an annual recruitment rate (ARR) of approximately 1,200 individuals per year.  Going in to 2020 the level of EU workers was 40% across the UK, but could be as high as 80 or 90% in London.  A proportion of this workforce came to UK to work and have not put down strong roots and potentially split their time between here and home (working a few months of the year).

 In the letter FIS CEO, Iain McIlwee, comments “Before we worry about who has left, you will see the gap in our figures, across the UK (higher in London) we were hitting close to half of our annual recruitment with immigration.  Plainly put we need to double what we did in terms of recruiting domestic workers, particularly difficult in the current climate.  Beyond this, for every 5% of EU workers that have decided not remain in the UK, we need to find an additional 1,200 workers (effectively doubling our annual recruitment rate again).”

Iain goes on to inform the mayor that “The sector has been identified by CITB as a top 4 priority in terms of shortages and is actively engaged in training reform with a new Apprenticeship Standards and a number structured specialist induction and recruitment programmes run in partnership with the Department of Work and Pensions, but the education and training infrastructure needs time to develop.  We need to evolve the culture in the sector and have to remember that a new recruit tomorrow is not fully productive (in fact initially drains time) – apprenticeship and VQ durations are typically 18 months for Dry Liners and ceiling fixers and 36 months for Plasterer.  COVID has impacted our ability to prepare for and now availability of workers and wage inflation is adding to the challenge and making it more difficult to address.”

If you are having issues recruiting or want to talk to FIS about taking  on an Apprentice, visit the FIS Skills Hub  or call 0121 707 0077 and ask to speak to one of our skills and training  experts.