Growth in construction work hits 16-year high

Construction activity increased at its fastest pace for nearly 16 years in February, helped by a sharp pick-up in new business order volumes.

On the back of that, Irish building firms increased both their purchasing activity and employment levels at near-record rates. 

Furthermore, with economic conditions continuing to improve — latest CSO data last week showed the economy grew by 7.8%, in GDP terms, in 2015, representing its best performance in 15 years; and most commentators see growth continuing this year — business sentiment, in the sector, has improved to a three-month high.

“The pace of recovery in Irish construction accelerated significantly in February,” Ulster Bank’s chief economist for the Republic, Simon Barry, said on the back his bank’s latest Construction PMI (purchasing managers’ index) showing a jump in its monthly reading from 63.6 points to 68.8 points. 

The PMI is seen as the key barometer of health for Ireland’s construction sector, with any reading over the neutral 50 point mark illustrating a sector in growth mode.

“The overall PMI index rose to a record high last month, pointing to the fastest pace of monthly expansion in construction since the survey was introduced in June 2000. 

A marked acceleration in activity was experienced across the sector; record growth rates were also recorded in housing and commercial activity, while the increase in civil engineering was the strongest since August 2006,” Mr Barry added.

However, he also warned the latest positive data must be put into context and the recent rise in productivity needs to be read against a very low base.

“Record rates of growth need to be seen in the context of what are still extremely low levels of construction activity. The point was borne out by last week’s national accounts figures which showed that, even after three years of recovery at very solid growth rates, construction output is still about 50% lower than pre-crisis peak levels,” he said.

“Thus, following the collapse in activity during the financial crisis, the process of returning to more normal levels of activity will likely require sustained growth over many years,” he added.

That said, Mr Barry stated the latest survey results suggest there has been a “major pick-up” in recovery in the early part of this year, which he says leaves the sector “on track for another year of meaningful progress in its journey back to more normal activity levels.”

A separate survey — undertaken by recruitment specialist Hays Ireland — shows demand for construction and property jobs grew by 46% in February, on a year-on-year basis. 

A quarter of these new roles were on residential building projects, while 10% involve work on large-scale infrastructural projects. 

The likes of electrical engineers, quantity surveyors, architects and structural engineers – particularly in middle management roles with three-to-seven years experience – are the sector’s most in-demand professionals. 

Geographically, Dublin is experiencing the strongest demand for candidates, but Cork, Limerick and Galway are also growing relatively quickly.

“The construction sector’s growth is directly linked to the Irish economy’s steady return to growth, with the outlook for the sector very positive for the period ahead,” said Hays Ireland director, Michael McDonagh.


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