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Post Brexit, does the UK face a shortage of skilled people?

So we voted to leave the European Union on June 23rd, and many people tell us a bright future awaits.


Eurosceptics like Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, or even Nigel Farage can’t sort the skills shortage, or even begin to address it, they have other things to do, so if there is a shortage of skilled people, we are leaving Europe, what do we do and who do we look to for help?

Hundreds of thousands of people have come here to work in construction but what will happen when we finally shut the door on EU workers and employers who need, for example, insulation installers, cannot look to the EU, there’s a lack of people here in the UK to do it, so what does the employer do?

Where will these skilled people come from?

Will we still be able to recruit from Europe to stem a shortage of a particular trade, such as bricklayers, or would employers be looking to the commonwealth, as they did in the sixties?

We go through a few scenarios here and find out what is happening, why it has happened, and what may happen when we finally exit the European Union?

Before we start, NPA is not affiliated politically with any political party and we do not support or promote any political views, in fact we are completely neutral, but it just goes to show that the skills shortage we face in the UK, both now and for the future, is partly driven by politics and not just economics.

Does the UK have a construction skills shortage and what do we do after brexit?

Well the people in charge of construction seem to think so and only last year the CITB (Construction Industry training board) stated that to meet the demands of housebuilding over the few years, we need to recruit around a quarter of a million people into the building game, but from where?

applying krend coloured render

When the financial “you-know-what” hit the fan back in 2008, the construction industry shrank and many people left the building game for other trades or other careers, so should we tempt them back, and how?

Even the highly respected FMB (Federation of master builders) have previously stated that now the construction industry has started to find it”s feet, many of their members are having to turn work away as they cannot get the workers to meet demand!


Officially, what skills does our country need, according to the government?

Although we are essentially discussing lack of skills in the CONSTRUCTION industry here, there are other skilled shortages our country needs so here is a short list of what we lack, although I have edited it as it is a surprisingly long list according to the website visabureau.com

Some of these shortages are fairly obvious and some really surprised us.

  • Engineers. By far the biggest group of skills shortages. All disciplines, far too many to list here, but engineers are needed in construction and civil engineering, geology and mining, tunnelling, offshore operations, mining, to name but a few.
  • Healthcare. We have all heard how the NHS constantly needs to recruit overseas and many jobs in healthcare, including Doctors, social workers, surgeons, nurses, are suffering acute shortages.
  • Scientists. All disciplines of science are crying out for the right staff. (They…….er….need some “bright sparks”….LOL)
  • Artists. Yes, seriously! Apparently we have a shortage of “creative types” for things such as graphics, animation and so on.
  • Dancers. (!) Seriously? OK, apparently, according to our research, the UK has a shortage of dancers and choreographers. I can’t see the government spending too much time on that, can you?
  • Physicists, Geologists and Meteorologists. This includes scientists in the nuclear industries, environmental specialists and professionals in radiotherapy.
  • Software professionals. If like me, your knowledge of this stopped at entering a program by hand into a ZX spectrum after reading “CRASH!” magazine in the eighties (Anyone else remember that), then you can understand that with our high tech world, we need number crunchers. The programs took all day and never worked anyway, so that’s me stuck with my current job then.
  • Secondary school teachers. After all, who on earth would want to teach teenagers anyway? I’ve done it and it’s soul destroying compared to teaching little angels in primary schools, which is of course what most teachers want to do. Teaching modern languages is in particularly short supply, but so is the will to learn a 2nd language if today’s youth is anything to go by.
  • Welders. We have a shortage of welders. I have my own theory on this but the decline in manual trades and manufacturing in the UK would have put young people off training for such a job.
  • Chefs and cooks. Many of our hotels and restaurants employ eastern European staff, I am sure you yourself have come across this. It would seem no one British wants to do the job? Hmm there seems to be a theme running there doesn’t it?
  • Line repairers (Electricity). Yes it would seem our national grid has a shortage of people to maintain the electricity grid, which is a tad worrying.
  • General builders. Skilled jack-of-all-trades people are now in short supply, although there seems to be no shortage of labourers and unskilled workers but evidence suggests these are Non UK nationals who have come to find work and not our own people. With 1.6 million people on the dole as I write this, (source ONS), you would think finding someone to shovel and carry stuff should not be a problem, right?
  • Bricklayers. A good brickie can earn up to £150 a day, and if I was younger, I would be putting myself forward to earn a few quid, but despite tempting offers and a programme by the government to offer training in this, many young people are not going into the trade.
  • Plumbers. Once again, young people are not putting themselves forward for training in skills like this, and with the amount of houses we need to build to satisfy population growth, these people will carry on being in high demand, and of course high wages, which pushes up the cost of building homes.

There are other skilled trades in construction that are in short supply but I would think from the list above, you can clearly see, we really need hands on deck as soon as possible, however any changes to this will probably take years to come into effect. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

Why does the UK have a lack of skilled people?

There are many reasons why we think there is a skills gap in the UK and to be honest, many people over the past couple of years have laid the blame on our own Tony Blair! (in part)

Back in 2001-2002 the Labour government was promoting University for all (this was before they slapped on tuition fees) and a flagship policy for them was the notion that HALF of all young people would pass through Universities.

This was of course at the expense of more practical training courses.

The labour government were hell bent on destroying manufacturing, manual labour, engineering, and said we were all going to be a service industry.

This also has resulted in the EU systematically dismantling much of our manufacturing industry, offering huge bags of free cash for companies to move production from the Uk to eastern Europe.

Coincidentally, this lead up to Gordon Brown waltzing over to Lisbon and signing a piece of paper, without asking anyone in the UK, which opened the floodgates to millions of people from former communist countries, all hungry for a slice of the action in the UK, it could be argued.

So, he encouraged all young people to go to Uni, they won’t be getting their hands dirty like their parents and grand parents had to, however the dirty jobs were still there, and lo and behold “Borat” and his countrymen came and filled the positions that, apparently, our young people did not want.

Borat style video
“very nice! How much?”

The thing is, and I won’t go into a debate about immigration, we now have 1.6 million people on the dole, but after Brexit, some people are saying “do we really need these people here?”

And with One point six million UK nationals apparently cannot find work, they do have a valid point, although some of late have put that point across in a most unpleasant way, which doesn’t help anyone, I am sure you agree.

For many years now, young people leaving school were encouraged to “better themselves” and go to university, however speaking as someone who started on “the tools” when he was 15 years old in 1986, I did OK for myself, and when one hears of Bricklayers earning £150 a day, why should young people be encouraged to learn these skills, and others, after all, we can clearly see the country needs them!

That’s a potential earning capability, for a skilled young person, of over £3000 a month!

……but……can today’s young people be bothered to get out of bed?

I certainly would for a hundred and fifty a day!

What could happen if we don’t address the issue quickly?

Is there a quick fix to all this?

It would seem not.

The government has, year on year, said they are going to oversee a housebuilding revolution, David Cameron relaxed planning laws, but even when he went on TV and said that………….

We’re determined to cut through the bureaucracy that holds us back.

That starts with getting the planners off our backs, getting behind the businesses that have the ambition to expand and meeting the aspirations of families that want to buy or improve a home…..

……….however in reality this has not happened, and with the shortage of skills, and a possible exodus of Eastern European tradesmen back to where they came from after Brexit, the UK will, quite simply, not have nearly enough people to actually build these homes.

“We’ve reached a critical point in the UK housing sector; either fix the system or face the biggest housing shortfall since the 1950s.

The current government targets are a long way from being met and there is little confidence that they will be in the short term. But all is not doom and gloom.” Source: rudi,net

So in effect, partly due to a rapid population increase, higher demand for homes, very few homes being built, more needed in the future, we face a real prospect of not actually having the hands on deck to carry out the building of the homes in the first place.

A row of Victorian houses

What is the answer to the United Kingdom’s shortage of skilled labour?

When I first write this article, the Prime Minister was Theresa May who reassured us “brexit means brexit”, she has certainly come under fire from ever more impatient ministers, MEP’s, Eurocrats, and members of the public, to define and spell out what actually brexit means.

Now I am updating this as Boris Johnson is now the chap in charge

It seems no one knows until article 50 is triggered, and 2 years later, we actually leave.

In that interim period, will Mrs May retain skilled immigrants, people we actually NEED, and then send the unskilled ones home?

In theory, when the UK has control over it’s borders and, presumably, less people will come here, at least that will take some pressure off the over stretched welfare state and less pressure and demand for housing, but unravelling the mess will take many years.

Secondly, the government needs to start to encourage young people to train in vocations to meet the shortage of skills, although from trainee to a fully skilled person takes years, so in the interim, we are still left with a lack of skilled tradespeople.

The Times newspaper reported that major house builders in the UK were concerned that with curbs on migrants, they would not be able to meet any house building targets in the distant future, although it was surprising to learn that Rob Perrins, chief executive of Berkeley housing group said that HALF of the workforce building new homes were from Eastern Europe! HALF!

Even RICS, the Royal Institute of chartered surveyors, said that house builders needed to find 200,000 new workers between now and 2019.

It’s a foregone conclusion that in many sectors, the UK NEEDS migrant workers. In the care industry, almost one in 5 workers are from abroad and many would predict a catastrophe if they were forced to leave, so in the interim, I would think Mrs may will broker a deal to help migrant workers that our country actually NEEDS, stay here indefinitely as they benefit our nation.


It also needs some thought, and action from the people themselves, people like you and I, with kids, or grand kids etc, they need to see the benefits of pursuing a career in a skilled trade such as construction, but until then, our nation is woefully short of people with the skills and expertise to take us forward into a new future outside the European Union.

What do you think could help bridge the skills gap?

Thank you for taking the time to read this article, I hope that you have found it interesting, informative and thought provoking


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