Skills shortage proving problematic for building firms

St Johnston man Bert Galbraith of Galbraith Construction.

BUILDING firms in Donegal are struggling to recruit skilled workers because of a ten year gap caused by the collapse of the construction industry.
The demand for engineers, electricians and labourers has crept back up in recent times but according to two local firms, the individuals needed to fulfil the roles are not there.
During the ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom years, the construction business was bursting with young graduates from building-related courses being rolled out in techs and training centres.
But following the bust of 2008 many of those who had acquired the skills needed to work on a site took them overseas and have never returned. Others who may have been considering training for the construction industry changed tack after witnessing the devastating crash.
Ten years on and St Johnston man Bert Galbraith of Galbraith Construction says the lack of young skilled workers coming through is proving to be a real headache.
One of the biggest challenges we are facing is labour supply,” Bert said.
“We are an ageing workforce and there has not been that appetite among young people to get involved in the construction industry because of the negative connotations that have gone with it over the last few years.”
Bert, along with Newtowncunningham man Darren Donaghy of Donaghy Safety Training, will be among local construction professionals taking part in this year’s Build18. Being held at Newtowncunningham Business Park over the weekend of March 24 and 25, the event is geared towards providing information and advice to anyone considering building, renovating, buying or selling their home.
Darren Donaghy said, “There is a lack of young, trained, competent, experienced people and it is slightly hampering progress and causing projects to be delayed. For example if I rang Bert tomorrow and asked him if he could build me a house, he would say yes but it will take a while.
“Ten years ago the teams were there but now, from a training point of view, what we are seeing is that labour is at a premium.
“Part of the problem is that young people in Donegal just can’t get the quality of life places overseas can deliver. Here you have factors like the geographical location and the commute to think about. For example I travelled up and down to Dublin on Tuesday. I left the house at 4.30am and wasn’t back until after 11pm. I have my own business so that is fair enough but for the ordinary worker making that journey and coming out at the end of the week with €450 in their pocket, it’s just not there.
“In Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the money is probably there and people are wary about coming home because of what happened before. It isn’t like 30 years ago where you had money in the bank and you built your house for cash. Young people today are more switched on about what they want out of life and they aren’t so worried about having a load of money in the bank.”
Bert Galbraith said attracting people back from other countries has been a focus of his business over the last 12 months.
“Last year our policy was trying to attract people who were working away from home and who wanted to get back to Donegal,” he said.
“We managed to recruit a guy who had been in Australia, another who had been in New Zealand and a man who had been working in the UK. That was something we deliberately set out to do because the industry here is healthy   and getting people with the right skills is key to our growth.”
Planning applications show that house building in Donegal is steadily on the rise again following several years of dormancy. The momentum is in the construction of single houses though rather than large scale developments.

Launching Build18 are Bill Steele of Cullinane Steele Architects, Darren Donaghy of Donaghy Safety Training, Barry Naughton, Head of AIB Donegal, Bert Galbraith of Galbraith Construction, Garry Clarke of Lanigan Clarke Solicitors, Sally Anne Mulholland, Head of Homes AIB Donegal, Peter Cullinane of Cullinane Steele Architects, Maggie O’Donnell, AIB Letterkenny, Christy Lynch, Efficient Renewables and Gareth McLarnon, Glen Estates.

Bert Galbraith said that in his experience, those building their homes today are more aware of certain issues than people were a decade or so ago.
“People are more conscious on things like energy saving and the products being used,” he said.
“This is something they will have been planning for the past 10 years so they have educated themselves. They have come up with a definitive plan and want everything costed before hand. We try to have everything itemised for them so they know exactly where their budget is at.”
Darren Donaghy said in his field of expertise, he was finding the same.
“People are more switched on to what things cost than they were before. They know where to spend their money when it comes to heating, insulation, that sort of thing. These days people concentrate more on things like energy efficiency and are less concerned about having that big car in the driveway. There is not the appetite there once was for oil heating because they see the challenges that are coming down the road around fossil fuels. 
“There is definitely a lot more awareness and forward planning than there was before.”
Those innovations do come at a cost though and anyone coming forward with €180,000 will struggle to build their dream home in today’s climate.
“Ten years ago you could build a house for €120 per square foot,” said Darren. “Today, with all the new building regulations and what people expect in terms of energy efficiency, they are not going to get it all done for what they would have before.”

Darren Donaghy of Donaghy Safety Training.

On the future of the building industry, Darren Doherty said that Ireland needed to move away from the ‘you must have a degree’ mindset and see construction sites as a career choice again.
“We need to move away in this country from this thought process of having to get a third level education.
“We need to change the mindset and make people realise that they can work with their hands and that it is perfectly acceptable to be a plasterer, an electrician, a labourer. 
“For years the white van man was maligned but now we don’t have any white van men anymore. So we need to get back to that and say that it is alright to get into the construction business.”
Build18, which is sponsored by the AIB Bank, will take place on the weekend of March 24 and 25 at Newtowncunningham Business Park. Doors will be open on the Saturday from 10am to 4pm and Sunday from noon to 4pm. It is a not-for-profit event and entry to the expo and a draw taking place will be free.
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