Highways England analysis of the UK's reliance on EU workers makes grim reading for the roads sector when it comes to Brexit, Transport Network can reveal.
Around 80% of Highways England's 'top 30 suppliers' and 93% of various key supply chain networks responded to the survey, which was briefed to industry last year but has not been released to the public.
The news comes as the sector is gripped by a skills shortage while simultaneously carrying out what the Government has repeatedly called 'the largest programme of investment for a generation'.
The survey of top contractors reveals that:
- 45% respondents said that they had greater than 20% EU workers within workforce (at the Trade/Labour /Plant Operative level)
- 21% respondents said that they had greater than 30% EU workers within workforce (at the Trade/Labour /Plant Operative level)
Briefing notes seen exclusively by Transport Network also suggest that in the direct workforce space nearly half of companies have greater than 10% non-UK EU labour and one in five companies have greater than 20% non-UK EU labour.
In the subcontractors workforce - Tier 2 and 3 - the picture is even more alarming.
The survey found:
- 33% respondents said that their sub-contractors had Greater than 30% EU workers within workforce (at the Trade/Labour/Plant Operative level)
- 17% respondents said that their sub-contractors had Greater than 40% EU workers within workforce (at the Trade/Labour/Plant Operative level)
- 9% respondents said that their sub-contractors had Greater than 50% EU workers within workforce (at the Trade/Labour/Plant Operative level)
The survey also revealed that 69% of respondents said non-UK workers were important or very important to the highways sector.
The notes are not specific about what 'impact' refers to here but the graph comes just after questions about EU workers.
To give some idea of how serious any loss of skills right now could be for the highways sector, the survey also revealed that 44% respondents said that current skills shortage is 'either very severe or severe', while only 7% respondents said that current skills shortage is either 'minor or not an issue'.
On top of this, Transport Network has already revealed that the Government's Apprenticeship Levy designed to tackle the skills shortage has paid out just £108m of the roughly £2bn raked in by the end of February, with much of the roads sector not even covered by approved apprenticeship schemes.
The Highways England analysis showed the top three barriers in attracting people to the highways sector are:
- 1st - Careers in other industries are more attractive to STEM graduates & apprentices
- 2nd - Limited appeal of the highways sector compared to other sectors in infrastructure and the built environment
- 3rd - Remuneration and rewards are not competitive
It also revealed that main barriers in retaining talent are
- 1st - Schemes outside the roads sector attract talent away from highways
- 2nd - Lack of work/life balance
- 3rd - Fear around job security due to historic stop/start approach to investment
The polling received 88 responses.