Bricklayers now an endangered species, survey shows
More bricklayers are needed for building work in Northern Ireland as there is a risk of the skill dying out, as young people shun the industry following the downturn, a survey has said.
The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) also said its latest research uncovered fears that gradual improvements in the sector would falter if political uncertainty at Stormont continued.
And the overhang of difficulties in the sector since the property crash, when many builders and property companies went out of business, meant that it was becoming harder than ever to develop the skills of workers.
The survey found that 60% of small construction firms were struggling to hire bricklayers and other trades were also finding it tough.
Maire Nawaz, director of the FMB in Northern Ireland, said the "construction skills timebomb" was in danger of exploding.
"A staggering 60% of small construction firms were struggling to hire bricklayers in our survey. This has leapt up from 49% just three months ago.
"Looking at other vital trades, 54% of firms are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners, up from 47% in the previous quarter.
"These are issues that require concerted political action and it's imperative that we find a way to convince people that a career in construction is rewarding and worthwhile."
And David Moneypenny, the contracts director of construction firm PG Contracts, said brickies could sometimes be "as rare as hen's teeth".
"Some of them are able go to London to earn £25 an hour and I know that in Dublin they are often crying out for them," he said.
"I know lots of guys have also gone away from the trade, and there aren't many coming out of school and going into bricklaying - they are going into IT instead."
Bricklayers usually spend three years learning their craft through NVQ programmes.
There have been improvements in the construction trade, but many companies are having to go to Great Britain for work.
And Ms Nawaz said the political situation could ultimately "pull the rug from underneath" the sector, even after its recent improvements.
"The situation for builders in Northern Ireland is frustrating, because after several highly challenging years, builders feel as if the recovery is finally starting to gain momentum," she added.
"However, the political deadlock in Northern Ireland is having a negative impact on confidence and directly impacting on economic investment."
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