Building networks to work: an ethnographic study of informal routes into the UK construction industry and pathways for migrant up-skilling

The UK construction industry labour market is characterized by high levels of self-employment, subcontracting, informality and flexibility. A corollary of this, and a sign of the increasing globalization of construction, has been an increasing reliance on migrant labour, particularly that from the Eastern European Accession states. Yet, little is known about how migrant workers’ experiences within and outside work shape their work in the construction sector. In this context better qualitative understandings of the social and communication networks through which migrant workers gain employment, create routes through the sector and develop their role/career are needed. We draw on two examples from a short-term ethnographic study of migrant construction worker employment experiences and practices in the town of Crewe in Cheshire, UK, to demonstrate how informal networks intersect with formal elements of the sector to facilitate both recruitment and up-skilling. Such research knowledge, we argue, offers new evidence of the importance of attending to migrant workers’ own experiences in the development of more transparent recruitment processes.