With the traditional boom and bust cycle of the construction industry, the availability of construction professionals with practical and relevant experience has always been an issue.
The shortage of professional staff on an upward curve becomes a significant issue for companies that can hold them back from expanding at a rate that they may be capable of were those staff available. This skills shortage contributes to significant cost increases as companies compete for the services of a limited pool of expertise.
At the bottom of the curve, there is an excess of construction professionals resulting in many of them emigrating overseas to pursue construction opportunities where there is growth. Very often, when the home industry starts to recover, these professionals are settled in other countries and only a small percentage return early in a boom scenario.
How this problem arises
In an upward curve, people perceive the construction industry to have good employment opportunities so school leavers are encouraged to attend college on construction professional courses such as Engineering, Architecture & Quantity Surveying etc. However, in a recession the opposite is true and students are encouraged down alternative pathways in technology or business etc.
For example, Limerick Institute of Technology, who runs one of the leading Quantity Surveying Courses in Ireland in 2017, has a graduate class of 12, with a proposed 1st-year entry class for 2017/18 of 20. This course in 2008 would have had 60 graduates. If you multiply this downsizing of construction professionals over a multiple of colleges and universities offering construction professional courses then the reason for a shortage of skills as the market picks up is easy to identify.
Given the time period involved in gaining a degree in Project Management, Engineering, Architecture & Quantity Surveying of 4 years plus, it takes a minimum of 4-6 years to correct a staff shortfall at the start of an upward curve as people take time to recognise the employment opportunities and encourage students towards the construction professional courses in university and college.
Sourcing staff from other countries, who are maybe encountering a downward curve in their construction industry, can also be an issue in terms of availability, willingness to move location, cost, language and social barriers. Professional staff may be unwilling to return from a situation where high wages can be earned at the top of a boom situation to return to a country where wages are lower in a recovering economy and there is also a risk that the industry may not continue to recover. The costs associated with enticing people to a different country can be significant.
How can this issue be addressed?
Longer term, the popularity of construction courses will increase the perception of job opportunity increases, but this is a 6-8 year process.
Medium term, college and university boards are looking to bring in students from other countries who have 3 year diploma/degree courses completed in construction-based disciplines and incorporate them into the 3rd year of degree courses here. This is a 2-4 year programme before it begins to have an effect.
Colleges and universities are also looking at running part time and evening courses for professionals to gain qualifications in various construction disciplines – but again it is a medium term solution.
So, in the shorter term, how can companies continue to grow and meet demand where a shortage of professional staff means that they are struggling to meet deadlines and missing out on the opportunity as a result?
Outsourcing of Work to 3rd parties
An alternative solution to staff shortages is to out-source the workload to 3rd party professional services teams who have the staff availability in-house.
The outsourcing of high volume short turnabout works needs to go to companies with the capacity to meet the deadlines and the required quality of the product.
It is important when looking at the outsourcing of works that the capacity of the 3rd party is taken into account. Small operations, while offering a certain service, are unlikely to be able to fit in high volumes of work within short time frames.
The outsourcing of these types of services can require a change of mindset for many companies, who would always traditionally have employed in-house teams for these operations. To expand in the marketplace that exists currently, many companies may need to change their focus from carrying out operations such as take-offs, bills of quantities production, claims management and backup internally to outsourcing to specialist businesses with the expertise and capacity to get the works completed within the allotted timeframes.
If you are considering outsourcing commercial services to facilitate your growth, please contact Paul Neenan (+353 (0) 85 7733165), who will be happy to help.