The collapse of construction has resulted in the industry shrinking to less than 7% of Ireland’s GNP, an exceptionally low level of activity. The Forfás Report, outlined by Peter Stafford in this edition of the Surveyors Journal, suggests 12% as a target for a sustainable level of output and, given the right conditions and incentives, it says that this could be reached in a couple of years.
Given current conditions, this appears an ambitious target and, if met, would result in an enormous increase in employment in the industry in a short time. But it should be understood that even if such a target is not met, a much smaller increase in output will bring with it a substantial increase in demand for construction professionals. A question that immediately springs to mind is: where are all these professionals going to come from? Given the level of unemployment in the economy one might expect that a reservoir of qualified construction professionals is available and that any skills gaps that might emerge will be met readily. But is this true?
A clue to what might happen with filling vacancies for construction professionals may be found in the interviews with Irish Chartered Surveyors working abroad and reported on page 14 of this edition. It is heartening to see how well Irish Chartered Surveyors do internationally, surely testimony to the abilities of young Irish professionals who are well qualified and have significant transferable skills. When employment opportunities collapsed in Ireland they had options both abroad and also in other industries here in Ireland. It is likely that many who left the construction and property industries may be lost to the Irish construction industry forever as they settle abroad or grow in new careers here. When the construction industry improves, as it surely must, a shortage of construction professionals may emerge quickly. Economic growth is vital but if a critical industry is constrained by a lack of essential construction professionals we will all lose out. The reservoir theory may not be watertight.