Andrew Simpson comment: BMN Leading Lights – Brexit Special

Andrew Simpson, National Commercial Director Hanson Cement is BMBI’s Expert for Cement & Aggregates.

If a Brexit deal is not agreed soon, the persistent high levels of uncertainty will inhibit investment in our sector, so an extension to the Brexit deadline would not be helpful. And in my view, given the uncertainty, delays in investment, worsening skills shortages and likely transport pressures, it will be challenging for the industry to meet the Government’s targets on new housing and planned infrastructure.

People – or lack of them – are the main limiting factor. But in transport, the key challenge will be to find enough drivers and vehicles, something which has been widely debated at industry forums. There is no quick fix, and the problems are likely to be exacerbated in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. Offsite construction is mooted as an answer to some of the current problems, but it’s difficult to see how it’s going to make a significant difference in the current uncertain climate given the investment needed.

The UK construction industry already has a serious shortage of skills and labour. However, it’s likely to get worse when Brexit kicks in. We have an ageing workforce and desperately need to attract young people and women to our industry. Will government apprenticeship schemes be able to plug the gap? Recently, the Department for Education said there were over 20,000 new apprentices in the construction, planning and built environment sector, equivalent to just over 2% of all new apprenticeships. Given the number of people employed in construction – getting on for 10% of the UK workforce – this seems a very small proportion. The industry has been gearing up to attract more young people and women, but given the time it takes to attract, recruit and train people, skills shortages will be a constraint for some time to come.

If we’re to meet future construction demand the industry needs to do more. It’s something Hanson UK takes seriously, by focusing on recruiting and training craft and higher apprentices and graduates, who will become the business leaders of the future.

We’re also investing significantly in raw material reserves and increasing capacity to cope with any future changes in demand or supply as a result of Brexit related market changes.

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