Non-EU labour plugs post-Brexit skills shortfall in home building sector, new research finds

26 Jun, 2023

A census of the home building workforce re-confirms industry’s reliance on the overseas workforce, with numbers of non-EU/EEA workers increasing as EU worker numbers decline post Brexit:

  • Overseas workers account for almost 65% of London’s house building workforce, with 50.8% of on-site staff coming from EU countries
  • Millennials and Gen Z workers account for nearly 60% of respondents, with the most prevalent age group being 30 to 39 year olds - but with 24% of the workforce over 50, the industry is facing a retirement cliff edge in the coming years
  • Majority of female respondents are aged 20 to 29 and tend to be in more senior positions, indicating promising forecast for gender representation for the next generation of construction leaders

Government needs to work with industry and invest in training now if we are to deliver the homes needed for the future.

New research shows the proportion of overseas non-EU workers building new homes in the UK has almost doubled since the Brexit referendum. The survey of more than 14,000 on-site workers highlights ongoing difficulties attracting enough homegrown workers to help deliver the number of homes the country needs, resulting in a continued reliance on overseas labour.

The latest Home Builders Federation’s Workforce Census evidences the consistent role of migrant workers in helping to deliver the homes communities need, with overseas workers accounting for 20% of all workers on home building sites.

While these overarching figures represent little change compared to HBF’s 2017 census, the proportion of non-EU participants has doubled from 1 in 50 to 1 in 25. Meanwhile the numbers of EU workers dropped 2 percentage points to 16%, reinforcing the importance of government intervention to tackle the acute labour shortage.

The statistics show the reliance on foreign labour is greatest in the capital, with more than half of London’s workforce (51%) made up of EU/EEA nationals and 14% from other overseas nations.

Despite industry successfully increasing housing delivery in recent years, labour availability is one of the major barriers to delivering the number of homes communities need with almost 60% of SME home builders reporting difficulties in recruiting site-based roles in HBF’s 2023 State of Play’ report.

With 30,000 more skilled workers required to build every additional 10,000 homes, there is growing urgency for government to invest in building and developing the house building workforce if it’s serious about achieving its 300,000 per annum target. As industry adapts at pace to deliver increasingly energy-efficient homes, funding in specialist training and education will be critical in developing the expert workforce required to deliver ever more technologically advanced and energy efficient new homes.

Completed by more than 14,000 individuals, the HBF Workforce Census 2023 shows 20% of the homebuilding workforce is aged over 50 meaning the sector continues to face an impending retirement cliff edge.

To further exacerbate the risks of the ageing workforce, the census forecasts an increasing dependence on EU workers in the years to come, with European respondents tending to be younger than those from the UK.

Just 1 in 4 students completing full-time construction courses currently go straight into employment on leaving further education, suggesting the UK training and education system is simply not giving the next generation the practical, employable skills needed.

The findings show overseas workers tend to be particularly prevalent in certain roles, including general labourers (28%) and painters and decorators (25%).

Meanwhile, the census illustrates a general trend of improved gender representation in younger age groups. More than 60% of female respondents were under 40, signaling an increasing appeal of construction-based careers among Millennial and Gen Z women.

Comparatively, female respondents tend to hold more senior posts than male counterparts, making up 15% of all supervisor respondents despite still only accounting for around 4% of the workforce. The overwhelmingly male workforce reflected in the census results highlights the importance of current initiatives to address the gender imbalance in the sector, including the Women into Home Building work experience programme delivered by HBF in partnership with its members and charity, Women into Construction.

Stewart Baseley, Executive Chairman of the Home Builders Federation says: “The home building industry is responsible for the employment of over 800,000 people at any one time both directly and via its extensive domestic supply chains.

“The industry continues to work to improve recruitment and retention within the workforce, including attracting new workers from different communities and improving the gender balance.

“As the country’s demand for energy-efficient homes grows, government must introduce measures to ensure students leave the education system ready for work. Investment in the skills and education of the labour force is critical in ensuring this country has the knowledge and expertise needed to deliver the homes of the future.”

HBF is calling on government to work with industry to attract, train and develop a skilled and expert home building workforce. Find out more about HBF’s Home Building Skills Partnership team at


For media enquiries, or to arrange an interview, contact or Steve Turner on 07919 307760 or

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Home Builders Federation (HBF) is the principal representative body for private sector home builders and voice of the home building industry in England and Wales. HBF member firms account for some 80% of all new homes built in England and Wales in any one year, and include companies of all sizes, ranging from widely-recognised national firms, through regionally based businesses and small local companies:
  2. The Workforce Census took place during October 2022 and received 14,185 responses more than 500 building sites across England, Wales and Scotland
  3. Research undertaken by HBF’s Home Building Skills Partnership, supported by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), has found that for every additional 10,000 houses industry builds, we need to recruit 30,000 workers across 12 key roles, including 2,500 bricklayers, 2,500 groundwork/plant operatives, 1,000 carpenters and 400 assistant/site managers.
  4. The shortage of skilled staff is more acutely felt by our small and medium-sized (SME) members. In 2022, 64% of SME respondents to HBF’s survey identified the cost or supply of labour as a major barrier to housing supply, up from 59% in 2021. With that in mind, industry welcomed the easing of immigration rules earlier this year to increase the talent pool of skilled workers who will help deliver desperately-needed homes.

HBF Workforce Census 2023

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