Taking control of construction worker compliance 
Photo by HongBo Chen

Taking control of construction worker compliance 

In a move to fill the skills gap, this summer the UK government added five construction jobs to the shortage occupation list, including bricklayers and plasterers. These roles are now given more relaxed eligibility criteria for sponsored work visa applications, such as a lower salary threshold. Co-founder of The Shore Group, Lewis Yorke-Johnson, explains how, although this will be welcomed by the industry, it will be important to ensure every worker is fully compliant.

With the UK government’s summer announcement of the relaxation in post Brexit immigration rules for key construction roles, The Shore Group has introduced the latest innovation to its Portal – a proactive and transparent solution for construction worker compliance.

Launched last month, the enhanced software enables construction contractors to view complete worker compliance information in real-time, providing much-needed insight and management information. Not only will The Shore Group Portal strengthen the safety of all labour on-site, but it also enhances corporate compliance of main contractors throughout their supply chain.

Major UK construction projects routinely require hundreds of workers from multiple contractors and labour suppliers to be on-site at any one time. Ensuring every worker is fully compliant is a crucial step for site safety, to comply with HRMC guidelines and to protect against risks, including modern slavery.

Compliance checks involve multiple types of ID, proof of right to work and skills documentation to provide evidence that workers are safe and legal to work. In theory, each individual check should be simple to complete. However, ineligible workers and unscrupulous labour suppliers can seek to circumvent these checks with incomplete or fake documentation. This creates a significant risk for the whole supply chain as enforcement action can be taken by HMRC and other government agencies for all parties involved.

And with migrant workers often comprising over 50% of the workforce, documents that need to be checked come from multiple different countries. This scale of supply chain makes management of worker compliance a complex challenge for everyone involved.

Co-founder of The Shore Group, Lewis Yorke-Johnson, said: “Compliance screening should be a routine process for all involved. Sadly, we see up to 15% of all applications failing due to forged documents, fake IDs and expired skills cards. If these workers were to make it on-site, that puts a significant number of people at risk. It’s why total compliance is an absolute business priority for us and our clients.”

The Portal’s latest enhancement provides a complete, real-time record for each worker on-site. This includes visibility of the original ID, proof of right to work and skills card documentation providing project managers and site management with accurate, transparent compliance evidence.

This functionality builds on the Portal’s cost control features which give contractors the ability to view labour spend and set thresholds that prevent the common issue of budget overspends. With the option to order the skills and labour required, the company say the Portal is the only application offering a single point of control for labour management, cost control and compliance assurance.

Yorke-Johnson added: “The relaxation of migrant worker rules is a major benefit for areas where the labour market is really tight. Unfortunately, there will be workers and labour providers who will seek to take advantage of these changes, even though they don’t meet the requirements. Managing worker compliance needs to stay front of mind. Every non-compliant worker puts colleagues and the wider community at risk.”

Yorke-Johnson told Intelligent CXO more about the Portal and the challenges facing the construction industry.

How severe is the labour shortage in the construction industry?

Current skills shortages vary by region and by trade, which partly explains why only five construction role types have been added to the migration list. But the shortage in these roles leads to very real problems. For example, over 40% of members of the Federation of Master Builders have reported project delays due to a shortage of bricklayers. This slows down projects, affects contractor profitability and reduces the take home pay of thousands of workers.

In addition to this, we’re also seeing skills shortages developing in ‘new’ construction areas like building retrofit, data centres and green construction.

There is also the ticking time bomb of a declining construction workforce as older workers retire. While the industry adds 170,000 new workers each year, the number needed by 2027 will be 225,000. So, we’re behind now and will get further behind in the years ahead without a dramatic shift.

We have a combined shortage of both overall labour and for specific skills.

Is it a common occurrence for workers/suppliers to provide fake documents?

Sadly, it remains way too common. During any given week, up to 15% of the applications we see fail our compliance checks due to insufficient or forged documentation. Our checks, which are part of our quality management system, include both automated and human checks to ensure an effective, robust process. The Portal provides an additional layer of transparency for the whole supply chain to demonstrate compliance.

In what way does a non-compliant worker put colleagues at risk?

If we failed to identify these workers, this could lead to workers on-site without qualifications, insurance or relevant experience which is a major safety risk. This could lead to a physical risk to workers on construction projects.

However, the risks extend beyond this. Our checks help mitigate against the threats of modern slavery and gang labour, as well as financial risks including non-compliance with HMRC and other financial regulations.

It’s a long list of legislation that we need to remain compliant with, which is why we have a team dedicated to this. The legislation also continually evolves with the risks and so our processes evolve too.

Tell me more about The Shore Group – what gap in the market did you see?

Innovation has been a core part of our business model since we were founded in 2008. We began life as a construction recruitment agency, and we’ve evolved into a support services provider across multiple sectors.

The strength of our model is that the original recruitment business powers all of our resourcing needs across all divisions and services. This means we have access to a vast, compliant supply chain that can rapidly scale to provide innovative integrated solutions across the UK.

Our growth divisions now comprise over half of our revenue and the pace of change is rapid. It’s an exciting time to lead the group, especially as I believe we’re only scratching the surface of the value we can add to clients with new service solutions.

How has Portal’s tech developed since it began?

The Portal started as a cost control tool for clients who were suffering from agency labour overspends. By linking the Portal to project budgeting and labour supply, clients could set budget caps which stopped overspends at source.

Since then, we’ve added detailed reporting functionality, labour ordering as well as the new compliance module.

How does Portal spot fake documents?

The Portal integrates seamlessly with our full compliance process, adding to the existing technology and process checks. Crucially, it provides full transparency for project managers so they can review compliance information on-site and in real-time, including the original worker documentation. Uniquely, this provides a single point of control for compliance, cost and fulfilment for all labour on their projects.

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