House builders are, according to yesterday’s Daily Mail are being “forced” to hire bricklayers from Portugal on £1,000 a week because of a shortage of workers that are able to do the job. According to recruiters, a shortage of skilled people in the UK is forcing firms to look abroad for construction workers, who can demand double the “usual” day rate.
But the influx of overseas tradesmen could actually be good for the industry. Most European workers are more polite, co operative and produce higher standards of work than British tradesmen. Many site managers would actually prefer a Lithuanian or Pole to many British workers!
James Hick, from the recruitment company Manpower, told the Daily Mail that building firms were looking for bricklayers in Portugal. He said: “There is a severe shortage of skilled tradespeople in Britain bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, mechanical engineers, HGV drivers.”
“Where they were paying £500 a week at the beginning of the year, the demand for those skills means they are now paying £1,000 a week. That pressure on skills is huge, particularly in the construction industry in the South East and London. During the downturn, he said, many firms stopped training schemes and were left without skilled workers when contracts started coming in. That is not something that can be resolved quickly, but companies need people who can work now, so they have had to put up pay and look elsewhere.”
Malcolm Thorpe of the Guild of Bricklayers added that a £1,000 a week was a “ridiculous” wage. “If we carried on continually training then we would be okay. The first thing that goes is training.”
When did Bricklayers last earn as little as £100 a day? Not even during the last downturn were bricklayer’s wages that low, especially in the South East. Indeed, most of their hod carriers wouldn’t get out of bed for £100 a day. All the talk of £1,000 a week may seem like high wages, but train drivers receive similar pay. In addition, building workers work outside in all weathers, doing heavy manual work that would destroy most ordinary office workers after a few hours! Not many of today’s bricklayers will be able to lay bricks in their late fifties, let alone up to the new retirement age.
Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire, said: “It is a sad state of affairs when people in this country are not capable of doing the jobs that other people can. That is why the Government is right to focus on apprenticeships, instead of sending people on a conveyer belt to university on a course which will be of no use to them. Apprenticeships will teach people the skills that are needed, so that we do not need to go abroad for them.”
Business Secretary Vince Cable is due to announce that the Government’s target of two million apprenticeships starting in this Parliament has been achieved. A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Government-led efforts over the past four years have got Britain building, creating thousands of jobs. In November, ministers agreed with housebuilders to create tens of thousands of jobs and apprenticeships on sites across the country, to nurture home-grown talent for many years to come.”
The two million new apprenticeships is throughout all industries, not just in construction based trades. The big housebuilders should have been taking on directly employed apprentices for many years, not just forcing their sub contractors to take on one or two bricklayers and carpenters in each region for PR purposes. Housebuilders don’t care about training people for the future; they only care about the profit and numbers in their next financial statement. The fact that Government ministers were only meeting this with big housebuilders last month, shows how low down the list of priorities training is. At this rate, the new “batch” of trained building apprentices will be just in time for the next downturn!
Already contractors and house builders pay a CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) Levy and for many years this was used as a ‘get out of jail free card’ as far as their training responsibilities and obligations were concerned. Rebates on the Levy can also be reclaimed in relation to any training given to employees – even mandatory training such as safety courses for site management and First Aid at Work courses. Even the site manager’s mandatory Site Induction for new starters on site that usually only lasts a few minutes can be used to claim a rebate, providing signatures are obtained confirming attendance.
It is therefore not a great surprise that there is now and has been for many years, a shortage of people in Britain with the necessary construction skills. Even those with skills were tossed aside when housebuilders cut back during the downturn. Now they need skilled workers, they will have to pay them what they want, sharing the huge profits they make with their workers as well as their shareholders.