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Report warns London building sites facing growing skills crisis

The construction sector in London is facing a growing skills crisis, which has been made worse by an ageing workforce and Brexit, according to a new report.

The report by the think tank Centre for London, warns the crisis will strengthen the case for more off-site construction and other modern building methods.

It warns 12% of building workers in London are expected to retire or leave the sector within the next nine years.

It also warns there will be fewer overseas construction workers here after Brexit, which will compound the problem.

According to the report, workers born in the EU account for a third of the construction workforce in London, compared to 10% in the rest of the UK.

And it adds the number of people starting apprenticeships in construction, planning and the built environment in the capital has fallen by almost half in the five years to 2016.

There is also a wide gap in gender participation, with no women taking a high-level apprenticeship in construction in the capital in 2015/16.

In light of these pressures, the report finds that off-site housing construction and manufacturing could help to achieve faster delivery on-site than traditional construction – with schemes completed in about two-thirds of the time.

It also suggests that off-site construction could help to shift the workload from constrained construction sites to the more controlled, safer environment of factories, reduce local environmental impact, and help to diversify the workforce.

‘Innovation is urgently needed to increase the current levels of housing delivery within the capital,’ said report co-author, Victoria Pinoncely.

‘If modern methods of construction are to be part of the solution, a step change is required.

‘We need better collaboration within the construction sector, the development of standardised techniques and financing models, and a strong lead from both the GLA and national government.’

The managing director of property, Europe, at developers Lendlease, Jonathan Emery, said: ‘As an industry we’ve known for a while the potential issues facing us, we know that we risk losing a huge proportion of our workforce, and we now know that modern methods of construction could – amongst other things – help resolve the issue and improve safety on site.

‘It’s now time to put our knowledge in to action by sharing our research, working together and collectively engaging in practices that will strengthen our industry.’

London Councils’ executive member for housing and planning, Cllr Darren Rodwell, said: ‘London faces a severe housing crisis. We need a major boost to housebuilding and – as this important report makes clear – innovation in construction methods can be a key part of achieving this.’

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