A major survey into construction -an industry which was for many years a major employer in Ballymena- has highlighted a worrying ‘skill drain’
The latest RICS Construction Market Survey which has reported improved activity for three consecutive quarters, points to increasing shortages of chartered surveyors and other construction professionals.
RICS Northern Ireland construction spokesman, Jim Sammon, says: “The positive story is that the recovery in the construction industry is continuing, with the latest RICS survey showing that the workloads of chartered surveyors grew for a third quarter, and at an increased rate of growth. This is from low levels of activity after such a significant downturn, but this latest survey gives cause for optimism that the recovery is taking hold,” he says.
“The other side of the story is that with activity increasing, evidence of skills shortages is emerging. We are also getting indications from local third-level education establishments that enrolment levels for construction-related courses are at low levels. With skills shortages emerging and the pipeline of professionals potentially hampered by fewer students enrolling on construction related courses, this gives us real cause for concern,” Mr Sammon continues.
“Northern Ireland has an infrastructure deficit which will need to be dealt with in the years ahead, and we need the necessary skills available to do so. Our message is that students shouldn’t be put off studying chartered surveying and other construction disciplines because of challenges the sector has had in the past number of years. We hear from the local universities that employers are currently having difficulty recruiting because of the increasing demand and the lack of availability of students with the necessary skills. So there are real opportunities for students,” Mr Sammon adds.
With regard to construction activity, the second quarter of 2007 was the last time the survey’s workload balance (the percentage of respondents reporting rising workloads minus the percentage reporting falling workloads) was above the +20 recorded in the most recent quarter (Q1 2014). This compared to a workload balance in GB of +43.
With regard to labour shortages, almost a third of Northern Ireland respondents are having difficulty sourcing skills across a range of construction disciplines. There are also concerns about labour shortages in GB, with 41 per cent of respondents having difficulty sourcing skills across a range of disciplines.