Building Our Way Out of The COVID Crisis.
Lee Madden, Managing Director of GR8, talks about the need to reach construction talent beyond the Channel Islands post-Brexit and COVID, to help our economy recover.
It’s no secret that the combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit have caused an acute shortage of people available for the work that needs doing. It’s been clearly demonstrated within the hospitality industry, but it’s also becoming apparent in construction too.
Despite what has been a devasting year for many, large construction projects have continued. Some of the projects converting office space into housing in St Helier are nearing completion, and the Island Bridging Plan promises a lot more work over the coming years
But the shortages of people ready and willing to help make that happen could prove to be a real headache.
During the pandemic, many were forced to leave the islands and the industry now has a smaller pool to tap into. Travel restrictions and Brexit have further squeezed the market of available labour, and although the UK would seem to be the easiest source, people are simply not travelling here to work.
Brexit changes and a desire to limit migration has meant new rules on who can come here from outside the Common Travel Area. EU nationals who can prove they have lived or worked here before have until the end of June to apply for Settled Status.
They are a group that have traditionally come here, mainly people from Madeira and Portugal who have family links here. That’s also become true for people from Poland, Romania and other Eastern European countries.
Jersey remains an attractive destination for those looking for some stability when they arrive. The construction industry has negotiated 4-year licences for employees coming here from outside the CTA or who do not have settled status. With construction projects usually lasting longer than a year, an employer can bring someone in on a four-year licence that has to be renewed once a year.
It’s a solution that could work for bringing people here from Portugal, Madeira, Poland and even further afield.
We would always look first to the local market, but we know that the squeeze on people means some businesses are being outpriced by others. This has already been happening in hospitality, and now we are hearing similar stories within construction. We all want to pay our people more, rewarding experience and hard work, but we cannot let a wage war get out of hand.
What we need is an agreement where businesses are not poaching staff, but that will only work if we can tap into a reliable source of labour. As restrictions on travel begin to ease and Jersey is able to take advantage of the fantastic vaccination and track and trace programmes, we should see things beginning to settle down.
But we do need to accept that we will have to reach out to other parts of the world to get the people we need to help our economy recover. There are plenty of construction projects just waiting to get going, but they need people and we need to let potential staff know that we are here, we are ready for them and we want them to come.
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