Theresa May’s preference for ‘skilled’ workers was an unhelpful and sad takeaway from the party conferences.
Before I get emails accusing me of being a Corbynite, let me stress: I have no political allegiance when it comes to the Conservatives, Labour or anyone else.
I’ve voted for different parties based on their local manifestos in elections here. But the prime minister’s role goes beyond traditional Conservative values.
She speaks for the UK’s values, for where it wants to be as a nation and a union, and she is doing so at the most divisive and important time for many decades.
She represents on the world stage the 52 per cent who voted to leave the EU and for the 48 per cent who wanted to remain. She speaks for more than 10 million people who were registered to vote but didn’t.
By advocating a post-Brexit focus on recruiting ‘high-skilled’ workers, the prime minister knows she is appealing to the party base that puffs out its chest when the EU is mentioned. And in the same breath she talks about wanting to be a party for hard-working people.
That EU and foreign workers help keep the UK construction industry going is not up for debate; it’s fact. But government guidelines currently assess all site trades as lower-skilled, which means they cannot obtain tier two work visas and will therefore have their primary route to the UK blocked post-Brexit.
That alone is troubling when one considers the need for hundreds of thousands of extra workers, not fewer (until the industry can modernise, upskill workers in advanced methods of construction and deliver a better product).
But there’s more at stake here. Imagine the kids sitting in school hearing about ‘low-skilled’ jobs. Then ask yourself why any pupil would choose to pursue a trade, when the prime minister herself thinks it’s of secondary importance.
As one reader said this week: “Deeming our trades people as ‘low skill’ only proves what successive governments have drilled into youth for years – ‘get an academic qualification, or you’ll end up thick and on a building site’.”
Sir Vince Cable told CN this week that “the economic needs of the country do not call for a crackdown on construction workers” – and he’s right.
Mrs May says certain sectors may be exempt from the new focus on ‘higher-skilled’ immigrants and construction must be on that list.
In the meantime, she may want to consider the wider effect of her words when it comes to the skills Britain needs.