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Building For The Future Should Start Now

Building For The Future Should Start Now

Whilst there is no single key that unlocks success for a business, planning for the future must be one of the most pivotal considerations. It is forward-thinking and proactive businesses that are profitable and succeed, even in the tough times. It is not easy to weather the uncertainties that the economy can throw up or to even try to pre-empt market trends before the crowd, but those businesses that try to do this are more prepared and more resilient when faced with challenges.

The construction sector knows all too well how quickly challenging trading conditions can arise. The sector is used to the riding the rollercoaster of the economy and understands how politics affects the economy; the economy affects demand; and demand affects profits. The sector is one of the real thermometers of the UK economy. When the country is doing well, the sector feels the rewards. When the country feels uncertain, the sector is the one of the first to feel that pain.

The construction sector has always been a hub for skills and is further ahead then many other sectors when it comes to training and development. From apprenticeships and workplace learning, there is much that other sectors can learn about the industry’s approach to ensuring that there is a steady supply of labour and skills available for the next set of projects coming up.

But as the UK faces exit from the European Union, significant changes to EU free movement laws and the immigration rules have the potential to create very real recruitment challenges for the sector. Those who are organised and forward-thinking will be well-placed to seize the opportunities, whereas those who are reactive will be left behind trying to deal with the challenges.

We have heard it said a million times that the labour market at the moment is tighter than it has ever been. We have record high employment and record low unemployment. The competition for labour and skills is fiercer than ever with many employers reliant on non-British labour or skills to meet consumer demand. With Brexit, that pool of talent is likely to become much more difficult to access.

With Brexit, EU free movement of people will come to an end. Early indications are that there will be a new migration system implemented for EU nationals, and that it is likely to be similar to the existing system already in place for non-EU nationals. Access to unskilled or low skilled migration from the EU is likely to be limited, if not stopped completely, thereby denying the sector access to labour pools that it currently enjoys.

If the labour market remains this tight, then employers will need to consider where labour and skills will come from in the future, and perhaps might be forced to think about whether automation or capital investment can replace certain types of labour. The time for that type of thinking is now.

For those seeking highly skilled talent, migration from the EU or from further afield might still be possible. Though that will not be without challenges. The new visa system is likely to require employers to register, formally advertise roles, and meet specific salary requirements. At this stage, businesses should be thinking about their future talent and skill requirements and start considering whether such roles would be eligible for sponsorship under a new migration system and where any gaps might be.

If there are gaps – and there will be – then where will that workforce come from? We might face even more acute skill and labour shortages than we do at the moment. To ensure the continued competitiveness of your business in post-Brexit Britain, it would be worth spending some time thinking about talent retention and attraction issues now in order that when the inevitable happens, you are prepared to deal with it.

Jamie Kerr is a specialist immigration law Partner at Burness Paull.

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