There is widespread shortfall of professional and craft skills. As regards the professionals, there is a particular shortage of civil engineers caused by a glut of infrastructure projects, such as the £14m Toome Bypass, the largest bottleneck in Northern Ireland.
The result is that salaries for civil engineers have increased at a higher rate than for most other professions. One successful applicant for an engineering vacancy was offered £17,500 with a pension scheme and a weekend overtime rate. Five years ago, the same applicant would have received £13,000-14,000.
Mark Wade, senior consultant at Hays Montrose Belfast, said this position was difficult to fill. "In Northern Ireland it is easy to fill positions for graduates with a placement-year work experience, but it's difficult to get an engineer with two years' experience as they tend to be snapped up by firms who then hold on to them."
Quantity surveyors with two to five years' experience have had a 20-25% hike in their salaries, and there has been a recent trend for subcontractors to attract graduate surveyors by offering them company cars. However, graduates need to be aware that working for a subcontractor on one particular element of the job offers only specific experience, which could limit their job prospects further down the line.
Wade says: "Clients value candidates with main contractor experience as they have all-round skills, such as the ability to liaise with the client or speak to the architect, rather than candidates with subcontractor experience that have typically had one specific role."
Site managers are also finding that they are in an improving position in the job market. Wade gives the example of a site management position on a £4.5m project in Greater Belfast that he was asked to fill. The client wanted a candidate with a minimum of five years' site experience, ideally from an engineering background. The successful applicant received £25,000 with a car, bonus scheme and a contributing pension. Five years ago, it would have been £21,000-22,000.
Some new roles have been created in recent years. A number of larger contractors have reacted to increases in their liability for site accidents by employing dedicated health and safety specialists. This has created the post of health and safety manager at a going rate of £25,000-30,000.
In terms of the economic geography of the province, activity remains centred on Greater Belfast. However, demand has increased in some provincial centres, in particular Newry, Coleraine, Derry, Letterkenny and Donegal. Clients in these areas tend to request local candidates for their local knowledge.
Looking at benefits, some larger contractors are still offering final salary pension schemes, and car allowances are increasing from £3000 to £6000 depending on the candidate's experience.