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Slowdown takes heat out of skills shortage

NEWS - Lower levels of work and an influx of foreign workers ease the skills shortage

A SLOWDOWN in the industry has seen construction skills shortages fall to their lowest levels for five years.

The latest survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors showed that workload growth slipped for the second successive quarter between April and June.

Surveyors quizzed said the main trades where it was becoming easier to find workers were plastering, bricklaying and plumbing.

Member firms at the institution said a fall in work levels and an increasingly fluid foreign labour market meant the skills crisis was easing.

Martyn Stubbs of the Nixey Powell Partnership said: 'We have not experienced shortages of labour on site but there has been a noticeable presence of tradesmen from outside the UK from larger states of the EU.'

Peter Beard of Monaghans said: 'The merry-go-round of professional staff movement seems to have stopped, with more becoming available.

'The shortage of site labour is being filled with European labour from countries such as Poland.'

Every region apart from Northern Ireland and the southwest saw a slight easing in workloads.

And confidence levels among surveyors are being hit with a halving in the number of firms expecting things to pick up again in the short term.

Alan Robinson of Tompkins Robinson Surveyors said:

'Having not suffered pre-election nerves in terms of level of enquiries, we now have the spectre, post-election, of a downturn.

'The 'doom and gloom' brigade is making itself heard too much for comfort.Certainly recent tenders appear to be holding back on the inevitable.We have to wait and see - will there be a slowdown or a slump?'

The slowdown message was backed by the latest research from the Construction Products Association, which showed a weakening in sales among its members.

Chief executive Michael Ankers said: 'The reversal of fortunes has been particularly apparent for some companies manufacturing lightside products, as the private housing market has slowed both in new build and repair and improvement of existing stock.Many of the heavyside manufacturers also report sales below the same level as last year, as infrastructure projects are being delayed.

'Looking ahead, the construction products industry is more optimistic about the third quarter, with expectation that sales will be higher compared with the third quarter of 2004. But this optimism relies on the Government's planned investment in schools, hospitals and social housing.'