Building firms here face the UK's worst shortage of bricklayers and quantity surveyors, affecting the industry's ability to respond to increasing demand, according to a survey released today.
The report by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and law firm Tughans said construction workloads here had shrunk for the fifth quarter in a row towards the end of last year.
All sectors of construction contracted, though infrastructure had experienced the steepest decline. Respondents to the survey said Brexit uncertainty and the lack of a functioning Stormont Executive had contributed to the fall.
But RICS said that with the Executive back in place following the New Decade, New Approach deal, the industry was now anticipating a pick-up in the number of public construction projects.
It's hoped that projects such as a proposed medical school in Londonderry, as well as integrated health centres, could boost building activity.
However, surveyors said they were concerned about a lack of skills in the industry, which it said could affect their ability to respond to increased demand.
Around 65% of respondents here said there was a shortage of quantity surveyors - more than in any other region in the United Kingdom. UK-wide, just 51% of respondents said there was a shortage in the profession.
And 53% of respondents in Northern Ireland reported shortages of bricklayers - again, the highest level of any UK region.
Jim Sammon, RICS Northern Ireland construction spokesman, said: "The New Decade New Approach deal offers considerable expectation that significant investment in infrastructure and capital projects will be forthcoming, which is to be welcomed.
"This is important for the industry but more importantly it is essential for economic development and Northern Ireland's competitiveness," Mr Sammon added. "A key concern, however, remains the shortage of skills in the sector and this is a challenge that needs to be addressed through a co-ordinated approach involving industry, government, the education sector and bodies like RICS.
"Higher level apprenticeships for instance can certainly contribute to finding a solution and it is important that employers play their part in enabling that to happen."
Michael McCord, a senior partner at Tughans, said return of the Executive had led to "growing positivity" in construction for this year.