This year saw further rapid growth in the Irish construction sector, with Ireland being identified internationally as a prime location for inward investment.
The sector saw extensive investment and an increase in hiring across industries, with plans granted for numerous multi-million-euro infrastructure and building developments in 2018. The highest levels of hiring and growth have been in Dublin and its immediate surrounding areas, with much less activity in regional areas, although there have been some signs of increased activity in cities such as Cork and Limerick.The number of Irish professionals moving abroad has decreased yet again, with a drop of 13 per cent on last year’s figures, and there has also been a 7 per cent increase in returning professionals, according to the latest CSO figures in August.
Although this figure is not substantial, the reduced level of construction professionals exiting the country has slightly alleviated the deepening skills shortage, especially in this sector. Despite the uncertainty of Brexit, there has been an increase in the number of inquiries from the UK for commercial space in Dublin, as a result of a surge in construction professionals who are considering a move back to Ireland. The most recent statistics from the Central Bank of Ireland have also shown that over 46 per cent of the jobs lost in the construction sector during the crisis have now been regained.
It is a busy market with robust demand for construction professionals, particularly those at an intermediate level of experience (3–5 years in a particular area). There has been a large reduction in new graduates over a 5-year period, which has resulted in attractive salaries and packages being offered for professionals with limited experience. It is also interesting to note that salary increases (of 5% on average) were not as significant in comparison to the previous 2 years. This was largely as a result of the increased material cost, low margin bids, and significant levels of hiring that are currently underway.
One of the biggest challenges for the construction sector is the skills shortage. Ireland underwent mass emigration as a result of the recession, and so there was a frighteningly low number of graduates in the construction and engineering sector for over 5 years. This, combined with an ageing workforce, has resulted in a mass deficit in what is currently a booming construction sector, which has created major opportunities for an accelerated career path for recently qualified graduates and existing construction professionals in Ireland. However, it may result in the construction sector’s economic progress stalling if the skills shortage persists. With increased competition for skilled construction professionals becoming even more competitive between consultancies and contractors, companies are being forced to continuously review both their onboarding process and salary levels in this relatively volatile, candidate driven market. Despite a reduction in the emigration of construction professionals, the efforts being made to attract skilled professionals and persuade them to return to Ireland have been insufficient to bridge the gap that still remains post-recession.
Low Margin Tenders
The margins of many projects this year appear to have slimmed, which has resulted in a reduction of the previous overheads that had allowed for an increase in both staff and material costs. This has often resulted in a reduction in bodies on the ground and also increased the strain on the existing workforce to meet demand. This has impacted on employee satisfaction and well-being, leading to greater attrition levels and a worse situation. High accommodation costs are a significant deterrent to regional and overseas hiring.
From our recent data, it is clear that the housing shortage and the cost of living in Dublin are major deterrents for professionals returning from abroad, as well as those professionals who are located outside the capital. It is hoped that the €2.4 billion the government has allocated for major residential bundles in its recent budget will alleviate the situation by stabilising the current property market, especially in Dublin, and increasing Ireland’s appeal to construction professionals.
Salaries and General Observations
Retaining talent has become paramount to organisations, with 70 per cent of the candidates we recently surveyed having received a pay rise in the last 12 months, a key sign of the efforts being made by construction companies to retain current employees. From our most recent data, the three areas that candidates find most important are progression/CPD, work–life balance, and challenging roles/projects. The most sought-after benefits by candidates are a pension option, flexible working conditions/remote working, and health insurance.
Candidates returning from the UK market are highly sought after by Tier 1 contractors, subcontractors and consultancies alike. Quantity surveyors, setting out engineers and planning/project control engineers with civil and residential backgrounds have been in high demand over the past year. Consultancies have been especially interested in civil engineers. Drainage has occurred in site development infrastructure rather than large roads/bridges projects, which is in line with the type of construction activity that is currently on the increase. The success and importance of building services contracting is clear, as four of the top 10 construction companies in revenue terms are M&E contractors, and the sector has been dealing with a busy project workload in terms of FDI projects, such as data centres and pharmaceutical plants, and the healthcare sector, where there will be high-profile projects moving forward in 2019.
The Year Ahead
This year again looks promising for the construction sector in Ireland, especially considering how much the 2018 construction output predictions have been exceeded, with €21 billion being recorded, which is almost 1 billion higher than the original predictions. This further emphasises the extensive investments there have been in Ireland as a whole, as well as the country’s regained confidence.
Construction activity will continue to grow steadily in the coming year with a heavy emphasis on the growth of significant residential sector investment from both the public and private sectors to offset the deepening housing crisis. The absence of a government in the north of Ireland has brought construction to a standstill there and it is predicted that there will be significant interest from construction professionals located along the border.
The continued development and expansion of data centeres in Ireland is expected, with a €1 billion annual investment being made for at least the next 4 years. Additionally, new and existing pharmaceutical facilities continue to be constructed/expanded throughout Ireland, and a similar trend of significant investment will be seen in Leinster.
It’s predicted that salaries will continue to rise, but not as drastically as in the past 2 years, as a result of lower margins on tender applications, high volume recruitment and the increased cost of construction. Finally, the demand for staff will continue to increase next year, as more companies place more emphasis on marketing, on-boarding, training and development in order to retain both existing staff and the returning Irish.
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