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Construction Ireland: Skills shortage vs. labour shortage

While we still do not know what a post-Brexit construction industry will look like in the UK, it now appears that Ireland might well benefit from proposed changes to the country’s immigration system. According to RTE, the British government has issued a policy statement for imigration post-Brexit and post-EU rules on the freedom of movement that outlines a new points-based system. These new rules will take effect from early 2021.


Significantly, there will be no visa option for ‘low-skilled migrant workers’ looking to work in the UK while the new legislation will “aim to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to get UK visas”, according to news reports.


Construction industry leaders across the UK have already warned that such a shift in immigration policies will likely lead to chronic labour shortages for sectors that are already struggling to attract the workers they need. Adding to these challenges, UK employers have until 1st January 2021 to ensure their existing staff have a right to work in the UK. Business and industry lobby groups have heavily criticised these changes.


Here in Ireland, there was a slightly different response. Earlier this week, in an article entitled ‘Pulling up of UK’s drawbridge to low-skilled workers may aid Irish construction’, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) was quick to point out the opportunities for Irish construction firms to attract badly-needed labour, going so far as to say that “word of mouth from relatives of non-UK construction workers would likely alert them to potential opportunities in Ireland”. On the surface, this sounds like a positive thing; more workers to ease our current labour shortage. But in the longer term, as construction moves increasingly towards offsite and other modern methods of construction (MMC), the competition will not be for labourers but rather for highly-skilled design technicians, experienced site engineers and industry data scientists.


There needs to be a deeper appreciation by policy makers, both in Ireland and the UK, of the difference between skills and labour for the construction industry – this is vital to speed up the delivery of much-needed new homes and key infrastructure. Also, it is not good enough to base labour-force estimates on current data as the trajectory of digital transformation of construction is increasing at a rapid pace. While we absolutely welcome new labour and talent into the industry, we cannot afford to lose graduates and experienced construction professionals to the UK over the next decade.



Townmore: Your construction delivery partner – expect more.

Irish construction company Townmore operates across the residential, commercial, industrial, hospitality, education, fitout and other speciality sectors in Ireland and the UK. Townmore has a current group turnover of €68 million (2019) and more than 100 direct employees across offices in Tullamore, Dublin, Cork and London.