CITB required robust, reliable data on the nature of the current construction workforce, the number and type of non-UK workers within this, and the potential impact to having less access to skilled and non-skilled overseas workers.
IFF conducted primary qualitative and quantitative research with employers, non-UK workers and employment agencies, supported by a literature review and desk research on immigration policy and labour market statistics conducted by the Institute of Employment Research and City-REDI.
The research showed that:
Non-UK born workers account for around 14% of the sector’s workforce (54% in London);
One-sixth of employers said that they were very or quite dependent on non-UK born workers (16%), in-line with the findings from the two previous comparable studies conducted by IFF;
Visas are not well understood by employers, and most (70%) of those employing non-UK born workers did not consider the ‘low skilled’ visa for people with level 2 qualifications proposed in the White Paper suitable for their business. Half (50%) felt the same about the ‘high skilled’ visa route.
The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) is the industry training board for the construction sector in England, Scotland and Wales. It seeks to help the construction industry attract and retain talent and to support skills development, to build a better Britain.
Challenges and objectives
CITB needed to better understand the profile of the construction workforce, and the views and experiences of a number of audiences, including non-UK workers. This was to ensure that the study was able to report findings not only of employers, but also employment agencies (who have a good overview of trends in the sector and of employer needs) and also non-UK workers themselves.
A programme of research was developed which involved: desk research of official labour market statistics; a literature review of immigration policy; qualitative research with non-UK workers, employers and employment agencies, and then a quantitative survey of these three audiences. Finding and recruiting non-UK workers was particularly challenging. The approach adopted was to access these workers by interviewing on large construction sites across London and the South East. Having obtained the site managers’ permission to visit (and checking they had reasonable numbers of non-UK workers on site), a short interview was then completed by respondents on a laptop, with this offered in Romanian, Polish and Russian, as well as English. In this way a total of 251 responses were received from workers born outside the UK and without a UK passport or UK citizenship.
The 2018 results were presented in a cross-departmental session (attended by BEIS, DfE, Home Office and the Treasury, among others), and the 2019 results were used by CITB in its continuing discussions with Government on the policies that would best support the sector. Based on the research findings, CITB have pushed for greater simplicity in the proposed visa system, and additional breathing space on planned visa restrictions, in particular, it argued that:
The immigration white paper proposal for a ‘low-skilled’ visa of 12 months should be extended to 24 months;
Non-UK born workers entering the UK on a ‘low skilled’ visa be allowed to transition to a ‘high skilled’ visa while remaining in the UK.
An ‘Umbrella Sponsorship’ scheme is needed to allow self-employed non-UK workers to obtain sponsorship, so that their skills are not lost.