A report from consultant Arcadis warns the skills gap could turn into a skills gulf as the number of EU construction workers entering the country sinks between now and 2020.
Hard Brexit could see the points-based system currently in place for non-EU migrants extended.
That would hit construction hard due to the number of unskilled and semi-skilled migrant workers currently filling site vacancies.
Even a ‘soft’ Brexit scenario of migrant quotas would see the industry missing out on as many as 135,000 workers.
Arcadis is warning that the slowdown in migrant labour from the EU could potentially see costs rise and homes and infrastructure projects currently on the table delayed or even cancelled.
The consultant is urging the industry to rapidly modernise and accelerate use of technology and off-site manufacturing to plug the skills gap.
James Bryce, Arcadis Director of Workforce Planning, said: “What started as a skills gap could soon become a skills gulf.
“The British construction sector has been built on overseas labour for generations, and restrictions of any sort – be it hard or soft Brexit – will hit the industry.
“Missing out on over 200,000 people entering the workforce could mean rising costs for business, and much needed homes and transport networks being delayed.
“In recent decades, there has been a massive push towards tertiary education which has seen a big drop in the number of British people with the specific skills we need. If we cannot import the right people, we will need to quickly ramp up training and change the way we build.
“Be it hard or soft Brexit, we need to take back control of the construction industry.
“The likes of robotics and off-site manufacturing have never been taken as seriously as they should, but they could well prove the difference.
“So, too, could training. Working with schools and colleges is one way of taking control but this takes time.
“In the short term retraining and turning to the unemployed and underemployed could be a significant benefit to an industry under significant pressure.”