Construction wages are rising for emigrants who move home

“Come home, there are plenty of jobs.” That’s the rallying cry from the Irish construction industry seeking to lure back emigrant construction workers from the trades and professions who fled Ireland during the recession.

The likes of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, the Construction Industry Federation and Engineers Ireland have been busily encouraging people to enter construction and engineering courses or to return to Ireland from abroad for work. But given that they represent their members rather than the worker, can we really trust them?

Paraic Kelly of has a unique insight into employment prospects in the industry right now. “During the recession, all the phone calls [offering jobs] we were getting were from overseas,” he says. “Now Irish builders are coming to me to advertise jobs, so I know there really is an upturn. The bulk of our business is now with Irish firms.”

Serious shortage

After the bottom fell out of the property market, parents discouraged young people from working in or training for trades or professions related to the construction industry. There’s now a serious shortage of suitably-qualified graduates.

To some extent, construction and engineering professionals have always benefited from working abroad. International experience is positive on a CV and, given the boom-bust cycle of the construction industry, it’s good to get accustomed to looking overseas for work, not to mention the opportunity to experience a different country.

Still, the Irish construction industry has experienced a major resurgence in the past 24 months and skilled professionals, including engineers, surveyors, architects, and site and project managers, are in huge demand, says Philip Bourke of Hays Recruitment. Many emigrants are returning home, with Hays securing job interviews for 80 per cent of applicants in 2016, of which three quarters received job offers.

The CIF’s Demand for Skills in Construction report, published in October 2016, estimates that the industry will have to fill about 112,000 vacancies by 2020 to meet planned construction jobs.

Where is hiring?

Construction activity under way in Ireland this year includes large commercial developments, hospitals, data centres, biopharma projects, apartment blocks, student accommodation and mixed-use developments. The National Children’s Hospital, the planned 170km Irish Water pipeline from the Shannon to Dublin and a few motorway projects are among the big infrastructure projects planned.

When the property bubble burst many people were badly affected – some saw their lives fall apart – so tradespeople and construction professionals remain understandably wary of committing to Ireland. Director general of the CIF Tom Parlon says the industry had grown out of all proportion by 2006, accounting for 23 per cent of the overall economy. “By 2020, it’s projected to be 10 per cent of the overall economy; the general consensus in Europe is that the sector should account for between 10 and 13 per cent. By 2020, we will still be below what is normal.”

One major opportunity is the decision of the European Investment Bank to open an Irish office. “History shows that where they have an office, there tends to be an increase in lending and infrastructural development,” says Parlon. “Clients could be individuals, universities, Dublin Port, the State and various utilities. There are prospects for project managers, electricians, architects and labourers, to name a few.”

Salary, benefits and working hours in Ireland?

Salary levels are not yet at those enjoyed in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia or the United Arab Emirates, but they are beginning to rise, says Bourke of Hays Recruitment. “We are seeing a 10 per cent increase across construction, with senior levels receiving up to 15 per cent more,” he says. “Salaries across property and facilities management are more stable but are likely to rise once buildings are completed and ready to be managed.

“In architecture, while a return to pre-2008 salary levels is far off, we are seeing a 10 per cent increase for those in senior positions. Beyond salary, architects are increasingly examining overall benefits packages and improvements here can be key to making a new hire.”

Parlon says that wages will rise, but accepts that the housing crisis and the shortage of rented accommodation is a downside. “We didn’t build houses and now we have a crisis,” he says. “But we can expect housing supply to ramp up in the next few years, and there will be solid availability.”

Bourke says there are not enough junior engineers with up to two years of experience or more. “Higher up the experience ladder is where the greatest pressure point exists due to the emigration of engineers with four to six years of experience,” he says. “Irish salaries are yet to match those in Australia or the UK but there are signs of growth. Engineers with one to five years of experience, civil and structural engineering technicians with 3D experience and senior civil and structural engineers with eight to 12 years of experience are all receiving increased pay packets.”

Building services professionals are also experiencing high demand. “Those returning from abroad who will have an array of options in front of them, 10 years’ experience delivering high-class engineering projects can command salaries close to €90,000.”

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