Skills shortage threat to Northern Ireland construction industry
A skills shortage is threatening to undermine a recovery in Northern Ireland's construction industry, a leading trade association has warned.
The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) sounded the note of caution as its quarterly figures showed the building trade in Northern Ireland had experienced the sharpest rise in activity of the four UK nations.
The FMB said the political impasse at Stormont was creating more uncertainty within the sector.
The percentage of Northern Ireland firms reporting higher workloads than lower workloads rose by 23% in the three months to June - the sharpest increase in the UK. The FMB said the figures in its State of the Trade report showed that Northern Ireland's construction industry was catching up with the rest of the UK.
Maire Nawaz, director of FMB NI, said many small to medium-sized construction firms (SMEs) had difficulty in finding workers, as many had gone to Great Britain for employment.
"I think the results for Northern Ireland give a positive indication that things are finally starting to improve for construction SMEs in the province," she said. "Although these figures show signs of recovery in the NI construction industry, 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 NI construction industry and the wider UK construction industry. However, there is evidence to suggest that we are still losing too many of our skilled tradespeople to the mainland."
Ms Nawaz added: "I hope this problem dissipates as the NI 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 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 place.
"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."