Brickies and sparks pack up their tools for Dublin, says FMB report
BRICKIES, joiners, sparks and painters from the north are packing their tools each week and heading south to the Republic or boarding a boat or plane for Britain, a state-of-the-sector report claims.
And the talent leakage is contributing to a skills shortage, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) is warning.
The shock figures are contained in the the body's quarterly survey of construction businesses in Northern Ireland, the first since the outcome of the EU referendum.
FMB's regional director Gavin McGuire said: “We're growing increasingly concerned about the extent of the construction skills shortage.
"Nearly two-thirds of SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers and 55 per cent are having difficulties hiring carpenters and joiners.
"We've leaked talent from Northern Ireland to both the rest of the UK and the Republic, meaning that firms are struggling to find the quality tradespeople they need to operate at full pelt.
"And we fear this issue may be compounded by the temptation for EU workers, who are playing such a vital role in plugging our skills gap, to also seek employment in Ireland, where they will have guaranteed residency rights now and in the longer term, and the opportunity to benefit from a stronger currency.”
The FMB report revealed that growth among construction SMEs slowed in the north following the EU referendum, but still continued its positive trajectory for the year.
But Mr McGuire said the question of what Brexit means for the building industry in the north will be "weighing heavily on the minds of business owners".
He said: "Being able to secure work south of the border has sustained many firms during leaner times and the introduction of a ‘hard' border would be deeply troubling from this perspective – never mind the political and social ramifications.
"Building bosses are also concerned about the rapidly diminishing value of sterling, evidenced by the fact that two thirds of firms expect material costs to rise. These considerable headwinds need to be countered and we're calling on the Executive to commit to using public funding for capital investment projects such as housing and infrastructure in a way that benefits the whole of our industry.
"The softening of growth for SMEs shows how little margin for error there is and the Executive must work with us to ensure the hard-earned gains of the past few years are not undone.”