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The Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors reports a welcome, though 'relatively small', increase in activity among members. And it says some companies are already reporting difficulties in obtaining skilled workers.That such a small increase in workload should already be generating skills shortages is, says director-general John Hackett, 'rather a strange position'. Strange indeed. Even worrying. But not unexpected.At the peak of the last boom - and in all previous booms - contractors of all kinds were reporting problems in recruiting skilled labour. Last time around, with the prospect of a 'demographic timebomb' to come in the shape of a dearth of young people due to come on to the jobs market in the early 1990s, much was made of the industry's need to retain skills and training provision and to make itself attractive to newcomers.So what happened? All right, the demographic timebomb proved a damp squib. But skills were offloaded and training was cut, and the industry went further and further down the road towards a self-employment contract-labour basis which works against the monitoring, retention and development of skills.Fine for a continuing recession. But not much of a strategy for an industry hoping to pick up. Now, in early recovery, we are seeing the consequences. CONSTRUCTION NEWS