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News - 11 April 2004
In very short supply

Desperate U.K. skills shortage could be filled by new EU entrant labour.

A wide range of skilled trades are looking to the new European Union accession states to supply desperately needed skills that have been shunned by the increasingly graduate workforce of Britain.

These range from nannies to plumbers and carpenters. Indeed the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) estimates that the UK needs 1000 carpenters a month to enter the workplace to balance the exit of older skilled workers leaving the trade. It also estimates that the UK will need a total of 83,000 new workers entering all construction trades every year until 2007 to meet demand. The shortage isn’t confined to the construction industry: the hospitality industry is likely to need 150,000 workers over the same period and road haulage will require 25,000 to 30,000 which is likely to increase even more when EU directives on working time are fully implemented. The UK is even short of 4000 dentists.

A recent survey by Grafton Recruitment found that 55% of employers were happy to recruit labour from abroad and a series of recruitment fairs have sprung up around the country to try to sell the idea of working in the UK. Last week the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) hosted over 100 businesses at a special presentation on recruiting workers from Poland – the most recent entrant to the EU. Poland is seen as a particularly attractive proposition because it is still a low wage economy but has highly skilled workers in construction trades. It has the same level of plumbers, carpenters and bricklayers that Britain had 30 years ago.

However the simple expedient of filling our gaps with foreign workers may not be as simple as it sounds. When Spain joined the EU it was seen as a source of skilled labour that would be attracted to the UK by much higher wages but the anticipated influx did not occur because accession to the EU brought new work opportunities in Spain itself and the majority of skilled workers preferred to stay at home. If Eastern European workers decline our offer of work we will have to find ways to fill the gaps from within our own ranks. (see earlier stories in Knowledgebase about construction industry and skills shortages)


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