Belfast Telegraph

'Worrying' decrease of students enrolling in construction

By Margaret Canning

A fall in the number of students enrolling on construction-related courses is a "real cause for concern" in the industry, a trade body said yesterday.

The latest construction market survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said there had been growing activity in the sector for the last nine months.

Activity over the first quarter of 2014 was the highest since the second quarter of 2007 – however, there was a growing shortage of chartered surveyors and other professionals, as students shunned the sector after it was badly hit in the downturn.

RICS Northern Ireland spokesman Jim Sammon said the survey presented two sides to the industry.

"The positive story is that the recovery in the construction industry is continuing, with the latest RICS survey showing that the workloads of chartered surveyors grew for a third quarter, and at an increased rate of growth.

"This is from low levels of activity after such a significant downturn, but this latest survey gives cause for optimism that the recovery is taking hold," he said.

But on the other hand, there was growing evidence of a lack of skills.

"We are also getting indications from local third-level education establishments that enrolment levels for construction-related courses are at low levels.

"With skills shortages emerging and the pipeline of professionals potentially hampered by fewer students enrolling on construction-related courses, this gives us real cause for concern."

He said skills were necessary to deal with Northern Ireland's "infrastructure deficit" and urged students not to be put off the industry by the recent hard times. "We hear from the local universities that employers are currently having difficulty recruiting because of the increasing demand and the lack of availability of students with the necessary skills.

"So there are real opportunities for students," he added.

Nearly one-third of respondents to the survey said they were having difficulties finding people with the right skills.

The survey's cheering findings on activity come after a more pessimistic view of the last few months of 2013 in the quarterly construction bulletin. The bulletin said output was down nearly 8% between October and December 2013.

It had even slumped by 3.7% on the third quarter of 2013 – and 2013 output of £2bn was down 42% on 2007.

Last week, CEF managing director John Armstrong said that when the effect of inflation was discounted, the end of last year marked the lowest quarterly output for the building trade since 2000.

The CEF said the Northern Ireland economy was around £1.5bn poorer per year as a result of the flagging performance– and that big companies were still relying on work outside Northern Ireland.

However, recent purchasing managers' index surveys have reported rising construction sector output in every month of 2014.

Belfast Telegraph