Remote working worsening NI skills shortage, warns RICS

Skilled construction workers in Northern Ireland who are ‘dialling in’ to work remotely for firms based elsewhere in the UK are exacerbating the acute worker shortage in the country, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has warned.

The body’s NI infrastructure and construction monitor for Q4 2021, published with law firm Tughans, showed that over three quarters of Northern Ireland respondents said that they were experiencing shortages of quantity surveyors, which stood higher than anywhere else in the UK.

RICS NI construction spokesman Jim Sammon warned that the higher wages in other parts of the UK had effectively lured many professionals such as quantity surveyors to work for other firms while still living in Northern Ireland.

He said: “There is clearly a less upbeat tone to the feedback from Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the UK. The concerns around labour and, in particular, skilled labour, are just not going away, and appear to be even more acute here than elsewhere. It is very concerning that NI surveyors are less upbeat about the year ahead than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.

“The reality is that with the new-found ability to work from home, many construction professionals can find better paying jobs outside of NI while living in the low cost of living environment here. This is a new and challenging development for the sector.”

The report also found that 71 per cent of respondents had reported a shortage of bricklayers, and 63 per cent reported a shortage of other construction professionals.

In terms of workloads, NI was also left behind when compared with other UK counterparts.

A net balance of -13 per cent of NI respondents was reported for workloads in Q4 2021. However, the UK overall saw workloads rise at 33 per cent for the same period. Infrastructure workloads, which rose everywhere else, dropped in Northern Ireland. Public housing was the only subsector to see an upward trend in the country.

According to Office for National Statistics data released last week, annual output for construction in the UK rose by 12.7 per cent in 2021, led by new work in infrastructure. Construction vacancies for November to January 2022 dropped to a five month low with 38,000 vacancies in the industry.

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