Excellence in Engineering

Brexit would not be the right solution for our country

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

By Steven Hale, Director, Crofton Design

My mother’s eldest brother Alfred got killed in Sicily at the end of the Second World War and her father, my grandfather, fought in the First World War.

Before that we had regular wars on the European continent for thousands of years from the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Frankish Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, the First French Empire through to war with Nazi Germany that killed millions of people.  We live in a European continent that historically has been divided, with us regularly killing our cousins.

The whole European project first conceived In the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1818 by Tsar Alexander and taken forward after the Second World War was established to prevent a repeat of that pattern and has done a good job of maintaining peace over the last 70 years.  If we vote to leave, with the current problems facing Europe, particularly the migrant crisis but also everything else that’s going on; there is in my view a high risk that it will prompt other nations over time to follow, with the whole European Union breaking up over the next 25 years.

We might unexpectedly find ourselves with another war in Europe within ours or our children’s or grandchildren’s lifetime.

From what I understand, the EU costs the UK £8 billion a year more than we get back. To my mind £8 billion from the world’s fifth largest economy to prevent mass murder on our continent is a price well worth paying. 

I feel that the political class that is promoting us to leave has not thought through the fundamental issue and should be ashamed of itself.

They may counter that we don’t need Europe because NATO protects us but NATO’s job is to defend us when conflict has already broken out. The EU is there to bring nations together and prevent conflict in the first place.  Okay it's got its problems like any big family but I feel we should be there to work out our problems with our family.

From a construction skills point of view the big issue we face in our industry is that we haven't trained our workforce, from professional services all the way through to construction management and trades, for about 20 years. 

This is, largely, the period I have worked in the industry and I was the last generation to benefit from a wide adoption of good training plans within organisations. Then we got that recession in the early 1990s and it never returned. Since then we have had a skills shortage and have filled that with migrant labour. If we hadn't had that, many of the projects that facilitate other activities to enable us to grow our economy wouldn't have been built.

The UK construction industry is a major employer of foreign skilled and non-skilled workers. The industry has long relied on foreign workers to fill both skilled and non-skilled job roles. In the 1950s Irish construction workers were driven from their own country because of financial problems there and made up the backbone of our construction labour force from the 1960s to the 1980s and now that workforce also comes nations like Poland, the Czech Republic and the Balkan states.

If we exit the EU, with the right of free movement a fundamental principle of the European project, it is more likely that construction workers would head to France, Germany or Spain creating further labour shortages.

Solving a skills crisis is not something a politician can wave a magic wand at, or throw some money at and within a 5-year period expect the skills crisis to vanish. Its taken a generation for us to get to where we are and it will take a generation to get out of the problem we have created for ourselves. 

I think the previous coalition government made a good start with the way they promoted apprenticeships and a focus on the way they promoted STEM subjects within the classroom. It started a journey of recovery but that will take a generation. Because we find ourselves with a fairly high proportion of our middle managers coming from overseas to fill that gap, the young people we are now training have, as mentors, managers from both inside and outside the EU.

So if we all of a sudden stop EU migration into the UK, which is what the ‘out’ campaign wants, there are two outcomes. It will prohibit growth in our business because we won't be able to get enough of these middle managers to run projects and it will reduce the number of apprentices we can take on because we won't have the middle managers to mentor them. 

It is easier to integrate an EU national into our business than a non-EU professional. We have recruited from both within the EU and outside but in my view it takes longer to integrate those from outside the EU than inside. 

We are suffering enough from skills shortages in the UK construction industry already. In my view an “out vote”, aside from destroying European unity, would exacerbate the problems in the construction industry.

Send us your views on the EU referendum, please email: omarhadjel@crofton-design.com 




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