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Northern Ireland's builders fear exodus of skilled staff to Republic

By Margaret Canning

Published 18/10/2016

Growth continued in the building industry, albeit at a slower rate
Growth continued in the building industry, albeit at a slower rate

Northern Ireland construction firms could lose skilled workers to the Republic as they seek certainty over their status post-Brexit, it's been claimed.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) today said the industry was concerned that an existing lack of skills could be made worse by a lack of uncertainty for workers from overseas living in Northern Ireland.

And it also called on the Executive to commit to more infrastructure projects to help firms cope with the falling rate of sterling and its impact on business.

Gavin McGuire, director of FMB NI, said nearly two-thirds of small to medium-sized enterprises were struggling to hire bricklayers, while over half couldn't find carpenters and joiners.

"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."

Companies were leaking talent to both the Republic and Great Britain, the FMB said.

But its survey of activity in the sector during quarter three - its first following the Brexit vote - found that growth had continued after the shock vote to leave the EU, albeit more slowly.

"Despite fears that June's referendum result would lead to a dip in consumer confidence, workloads for Northern Irish construction SMEs have continued to grow, albeit at a slower rate.

"This is the seventh consecutive quarter in which our survey has reported positive results for small building firms, demonstrating how much of a resurgence our sector has undergone over the past couple of years. It's hugely encouraging that the upturn has not been blown off course by the referendum result, showing that underlying demand from consumers for building work has held up."

Separate construction surveys have shown a growth in house building in Northern Ireland, with new home registrations up around 30% during 2015, according to the National House Building Council.

But Mr McGuire said Brexit would be weighing on the minds of business owners. "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 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."

Belfast Telegraph

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