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The future of UK construction

In the depths of the recession, construction workers were flocking abroad to find better and higher-paid roles. However, with the recent upturn in the UK economy, demand for skilled workers is rising once again. Could the industry start to lure back those workers who moved away? At Anderselite, we wanted to look at this more closely…

Prospects Looking Good
Over the past few months, data from the construction industry has started to show the first glimmers of hope that business is starting to pick up. Recent seasonally adjusted figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that construction output increased by 4.6% from March to April and then levelled out in May.

This followed growth of 0.3% in the first three months, meaning that an increase in output for the second quarter is looking likely. However, the levels for May are still down by 4.8% on last year. Overall, since the beginning of the recession in 2008, the industry has decreased by 18.9%, whilst overall gross domestic product (GDP) has only fallen by 3.9%.

The data from the ONS is backed up by the latest figures from the purchasing managers' index (PMI), which increased by 0.2% in June to 51.0. Anything over 50 indicates a period of growth and this is the highest level the index has recorded since May 2012. Both these sets of data show that the industry is beginning to recover.

Government Strategies
The government has published a number of strategies and policies aimed at increasing demand for construction, which it sees as a key driver of the UK economy. It recently set out its aims for the industry up to 2025. Across the world, the industry is set to grow by 70% by 2025 and the UK market needs to be a large part of this. As part of the strategy, the government wants to speed up the construction process, reduce costs and decrease greenhouse emissions.

Migration Issues
In order to satisfy this increased demand for construction, the industry needs to keep pace with skill levels and jobs. However, since the start of the recession construction workers have been leaving the UK for foreign shores with tempting offers of a better life. According to the ONS, in the 12 months to March 2012, 353,000 people migrated from the UK, with 127,000 of them moving for a definite job. This was largely due to the economic slowdown and the decline in the number of skilled jobs.

Many of these workers were employed within the construction industry, which suffered massively in the UK during the early years of the economic difficulties. Many countries were involved in large-scale construction projects and recruited abroad to find the best talent. In the last year alone, 10,000 people left for New Zealand and countries such as Australia, Singapore and Germany have become popular migration zones.

New Zealand is still in the process of a massive rebuilding project after the Christchurch earthquake; Brazil needs to build infrastructure to handle the coming Olympics and World Cup; and Canada has not faced the same financial problems as other developed nations, so demand there is still high.
The industry may never attract back all the workers that it lost during the recession. For many of them, their new country will now feel like home and they'll have established a life there. However, for others, this was only ever a temporary migration and news of the potential turnaround in the UK economy could see them flocking back to British shores.

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