Where in the world are Irish construction professionals most in demand?

Ireland, the UK, the US, Canada and Australia are competing for the same labour pool

There is a  skills’ shortage in the UK, particularly for those with between five and 15 years of experience. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

There is a skills’ shortage in the UK, particularly for those with between five and 15 years of experience. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

 

This article forms part of a new series for Irish Times Abroad on the opportunities worldwide (and in Ireland) for Irish construction workers. If you would like to contribute your own story about moving abroad or returning home to work in construction, email abroad@irishtimes.com or tell us about your experience in our Irish Construction Workers and Emigration Survey.  

Five years ago, Paraic Kelly of ConstructionJobs.ie was inundated with contacts from overseas employers looking for Irish construction professionals such as quantity surveyors, architects and site managers. Of the jobs advertised on the site, about 80-85 per cent were outside Ireland.

After the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand, Irish professionals and tradespeople were essential to the city’s rebuilding. The Middle East (especially Qatar and the UAE), the UK, Australia and Canada were also popular destinations, but non-English speaking EU countries were less so.

“From 2013, we saw a gradual and slow improvement in the Irish market,” Kelly says. “It has really improved since last year. But at the same time, there is a global issue with a shortage of construction professionals. So Ireland, the UK, the US, Canada and Australia are competing for the same labour pool.”

Most Irish professionals are finding work at home, so that part of the emigration train has slowed down. Derek Byrne, operations manager of Sonas Recruitment, which specialises in construction and engineering jobs in the UK and Ireland, says that last year, it saw a significant reduction in the number of construction professionals leaving Ireland compared to the previous five years. “Those who are leaving Ireland most frequently cite the improved remuneration packages available as the main motivation to seek work overseas.”

Where is hiring?

Byrne says the UK, and in particular London, is now the most popular destination for construction and engineering professionals, as it is close enough for many to commute from Ireland each week.

There is a major skills’ shortage in the UK, particularly for those who have between five and 15 years of experience.

Matt Foster is head of sales for the construction and engineering departments of Emap, which produces trade magazines and organises networking opportunities for professionals. “Irish white-collar workers are a dominant force on sites in the southeast of the UK, especially London,” he says. “Project managers and quantity surveyors are in high demand.

“Outside of this, there are jobs in southeast Asia, especially Hong Kong and Singapore where they have a framework to 2030 on tunnelling and infrastructure projects. Hong Kong is expanding its airport and rail network to interconnect with mainland China, ” he explains.

Despite a property slowdown in Dubai and falling oil prices worldwide, the Middle East is recruiting, but less so than in previous years. Foster says there is a lingering uncertainty in Dubai but still a need for skilled professionals in Qatar.

Slowing down

The fall in demand for raw materials produced by Australia’s mining industry has seen a slowing down in the economy there, particularly in Western Australia. “We are seeing a lot of people returning from Australia to the UK and Ireland,” says Foster. “Pay and work in the UK is now better than in Australia.”

That said, there is still work available in the construction industry. Will Rush of Hays Recruitment says there is considerable infrastructural development in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory around Canberra.

“The NSW and Victoria construction market remains very busy especially the new-build commercial and residential markets. Project managers, contract administrators and estimators through to forepersons and site managers are in demand. We have seen Melbourne’s record-breaking levels of residential development continue to surge. Design architects and project managers with BIM [building information modelling] skills at all levels are sought after across the country, particularly in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.”

Salary, benefits and working hours in key destinations. How do they compare to Ireland?

There’s a good reason engineering and construction firms don’t advertise salaries for professionals, according to Foster, who says they are usually negotiable. In the Middle East, the average pay for workers tends to be about €58-87,000, says Foster. “The main pull is that it is tax-free and certain companies offer relocation packages and end-of-contract bonuses.”

Byrne says: “Salaries for a white-collar construction professional in London, on a nominal value, are in the region of 10-20 per cent greater than those available in Ireland at the moment.

“Take the exchange rate and a more favourable taxation system into account and this can represent a large improvement on net earnings. However, we are seeing a marked increase in the remuneration on offer in Ireland, particularly Dublin, over the last 12 months and expect this to continue throughout 2017.”

Data from Emap, which has more than a million active users, shows that in the UK there is huge demand for people in the salary range of £34-70,000 (€40-82,000). The salary for a quantity surveyor has leaped by about 25 per cent in the UK, while it has stayed flat or fallen for most other jobs. In Europe, salaries are not significantly higher than in Ireland, but it depends on the project in question.

In Australia, benefits and working hours are comparable to those offered in Ireland, says Rush of Hays recruitment. “The only difference in benefits is superannuation, a form of pension scheme; the money comes from contributions made into your super fund by your employer at a rate of 9.5 per cent of your annual salary and can be topped up by your own money.”

An experienced site manager in New Zealand could expect to take home about NZ$80-100,000 (€54-68,000). Project managers and quantity surveyors may earn about NZ$90-120,000, says Glenn Davis of New Zealand Skills in Demand. Some employers in Auckland are offering relocation packages.

For New Zealand, one of the biggest attractions is the lifestyle. It’s a relatively small country – about the same size as the UK – and is generally warmer and perfect for people who love sports and the great outdoors. “The accommodation is also cheaper and you get more for your money,” says Foster.

What do you need to know before you apply? How do you get your qualifications accredited?

Work permits are necessary for Canada and Australia, although Tom McHugh, director of labour supplier ICDS, says this is easier for professionals to get than tradespeople. There is free movement of labour in the EU, removing at least one hurdle for those looking to relocate.

Kelly of ConstructionJobs.ie says professionals who studied at third-level in Ireland can get their qualifications recognised fairly easily in Australia. “Australia, Canada and the UK have overseas qualifications units, and there’s never an issue there,” he says.

Rush of Hays says, “In the professional space, most degrees and qualifications are recognised so they do not need to be accredited but may need to be assessed as part of the visa process.” This applies to Western countries generally.

Some Middle Eastern countries are now taking in fewer foreign workers, so bear in mind it might take a few months to organise. But, says Foster of Emap, people can contact companies directly and they will tell them everything they need to know.

In New Zealand, it’s a lot easier to move if you are under the age of 31. Above that, a residency visa will generally be granted only after you have a job offer, says Glenn Davis.

How to get a job

The easiest way to get a job is to go through a recruitment firm, but bear in mind that some of them may take a cut of your salary. If you go directly to the firms you are interested in, and if you are good enough, you could argue you have saved them that fee and therefore could ask for money at the higher end of the salary range.

Hays is one of the leading recruitment firms, but you will also find lots of job opportunities on MaximRecruitment, which has roles in the UK, Middle East, Asia and elsewhere. For New Zealand, jobs are advertised on NZSkillsInDemand.co.nz. ICDS Recruitment and ConstructionJobs.ie will also help with international placements.

Sonas Recruitment specialise in construction, engineering and office support jobs in the UK and Ireland. See sonasrecruitment.com.

This article forms part of a new series for Irish Times Abroad on the opportunities worldwide (and in Ireland) for Irish construction workers. If you would like to contribute your own story about moving abroad or returning home to work in construction, email abroad@irishtimes.com or tell us about your experience in our Irish Construction Workers and Emigration Survey.  

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