Urgently wanted: plumbers, brickies and joiners

Gary McDonald Business Editor

NORTHERN Ireland is in desperate need of plumbers, sparks, brickies and joiners as it faces its biggest skills shortage in years, a trade body has warned.

Quarterly figures from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) revealed yesterday that workload increases in the north's building trade are currently outstripping those in England, Scotland and Wales.

Yet dozens of small construction companies are often having to turn down work because they simply cannot source sufficient skilled labour.

And the dearth of available quality workers is threatening to undermine the economic recovery as the north starts building again.

The problem been blamed on a combination of trained workers heading to Britain or further afield in the wake of the 2008 recession, along with a fall in the number of construction apprentices, which has come about because of the emphasis placed on university education rather than on-the-job skills training.

Some observers claim the valuable role of tradespeople has been largely ignored over the last decade - and often people are no longer able to call on a qualified electrician, plumber or joiner to carry out essential work in their homes and businesses

The FMB also claimed the political impasse at Stormont is creating more uncertainty within the sector.

It said in its latest State of the Trade report that the percentage of Northern Ireland firms reporting higher workloads than lower workloads rose by 23 per cent in the three months to June - the sharpest increase in the UK.

But Maire Nawaz, director of FMB NI, said many small to medium sized construction firms are experiencing difficulties finding workers, as many had gone to Great Britain for employment.

"These results are a positive indication that things are finally starting to improve for construction SMEs in Northern Ireland," she said.

"But the concern regarding skills shortages continues to loom large over our industry.

"Almost half of construction SMEs are struggling to recruit adequate numbers of bricklayers, with others finding it increasingly hard to hire carpenters and joiners, site managers and supervisors.

"In terms of work, there is no longer a huge chasm between the Northern Ireland construction industry and the wider UK construction industry. But there is evidence to suggest that we are still losing too many of our skilled tradespeople to the mainland."

She added: "I hope this problem dissipates as the local construction industry strengthens and grows, but in the meantime, the lack of skilled workers could get worse before it gets better.

"In addition, the impasse at Stormont is having a negative impact on the sector and is a great cause of concern for all those involved in the construction industry.

"The NI Government needs to agree a way forward and work with the industry to ensure adequate capital and infrastructure spending is put in pace. We also need to find a way of attracting enough people into a career in construction.

"We're keen to work with ministers and other bodies to ensure this happens and prevent the lack of skilled tradespeople endangering the sector's potential for future growth."


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