Robert Smith of Hays Construction & Property looks at a revitalised Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has seen rapid development in the construction industry since the beginning of the millennium, with many major UK companies quick to establish themselves in the marketplace. Having noticed the economic opportunities available there, many developers are starting to leave Dublin and turn their attention towards the north.

The most visible signs of this are in the revitalised city centre, where Belfast has experienced a massive boom in commercial, retail and public sector regeneration projects. The Victoria Square development, a joint venture headed up by contractors Gilbert Ash and Farrans Construction, is already being earmarked as the crowning achievement for the city. The first of its kind in Belfast, the £300m project will house three floors of retail, residential, and commercial units under an eye-catching glass dome when it opens in 2008.

Gilbert Ash is also behind the Ulster Hospital redevelopment project that got under way in January. The £60m project includes rebuilding staff accommodation blocks, building two new wings and refurbishing the main building.

Meanwhile, contractor Patton Group is progressing with redevelopment of the Belfast Campus at the University of Ulster. Local authorities are confident that the £15m revamp of workshops, art studios, computer suites and student facilities along York Street will create a landmark site in the city centre, attracting yet more people into the area.

Projects such as these have stretched an already busy market in Northern Ireland, and as a result many companies are experiencing severe skills shortages. Quality workers, particularly engineers and quantity surveyors, are in demand, and with a huge investment in roads and infrastructure planned, this is set to increase. Add to that a marked decrease in the number of quantity surveying or civil engineering graduates in Northern Ireland, and the skills shortage is likely to become even more acute.

Two positions that Hays Construction & Property recently filled demonstrate this demand. The first was for a commercial manager with a starting salary of £45,000, a £6000 car allowance and performance-based bonus package. The candidate was to have at least seven years' experience in the commercial sector with a proven track record as a manager. The position proved to be extremely difficult to fill, particularly as the client was looking for a specific personality type that would suit the company ethos. Only after five months was the successful applicant found - a 35 year old from Belfast who had more than 15 years' experience.

Equally hard to find was a site manager with at least five years' experience including school-based management projects. Even offering a salary of £28,000, including a company vehicle and performance-based bonus package, Hays Construction & Property manager Mark Wade says: "It took several months to find a suitable applicant - someone from outside Northern Ireland who was willing to relocate."

With a huge number of civil engineering projects set to start this year, Hays is anticipating a high demand for workers, the skills shortage being particularly evident for surveyors, estimators, engineers and project managers.

As the demand continues to rise, so have salaries. In general, salaries have gone up by an average of 3% throughout Northern Ireland, with more senior level roles enjoying a rise of up to 6%. Graduates and junior level candidates are also being offered more perks in their packages including car allowances, healthcare benefits, and pension schemes. And there is every indication that this trend will continue.