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Reflection on the Construction Industry in 2023

Reflection on the Construction Industry in 2023

Rhona Quinn, Managing Director of QMAC Construction Ltd
Reflection on the Construction Industry in 2023

It is hard to reflect on the construction industry in 2023 without thinking, “is our patience running out?”. Having worked in the industry for over 40 years I think of what a resilient bunch we must be. Challenges are now part of our normal working life. Covid-19 seems like a lifetime away. The resilience of our industry then was unbelievable – we bounced back embracing the new post-Covid ways of working – Zoom meetings and Teams meetings, while hybrid working has given us an appreciation of how we can work better together, making better use of our time.

Cuts to public sector spending continue to be a major challenge. It is no surprise that the construction industry was the hardest hit. How many times did you hear a colleague in this industry say, “we were about to start work on site and the project was pulled just at the last minute”. The knock-on consequences of this have been damaging to the industry on several levels – reduced revenue, increased costs, uncertainty for staff, well trained staff leaving, and some even leaving the country.
I listened to Mark Spence, Chief Executive at the Construction Employers Federation (CEF), recently say that right now there is not one new school commencing onsite in Northern Ireland. This is an unheard-of situation, considering that some construction companies built their businesses on building schools. More and more we see companies working south of the border or across the water to secure work. Behind all of this is the lack of a Stormont Executive and worsening economic conditions for Northern Ireland. In my opinion, the lack of an Executive is unacceptable. We are suffering for something that is totally outside our control. It is my firm hope that 2024 will see a Stormont Executive up and running again and our economy should be the key priority. I hope we will all feel the benefits from an increase in public sector budgets and an improved standard of living.

Three other priority areas I see are:

  1. With many young people leaving these shores, the skills shortage will continue to present a challenge to the construction industry, even though the industry can provide a very attractive career path.
  2. Whilst it is great that women are better represented in the construction industry, they are still in the minority group. More needs to be done to attract women into the industry. A collective effort needs to be made to engage with schools to promote the industry to children at a young age.
  3. The Net Zero Strategy which sets out policies and proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy to meet the Net Zero target by 2050 presents several challenges to everyone. Significant investment is required going forward. This requires help, support, and guidance from public sector bodies to achieve these goals.

I am making a heartfelt plea to our politicians to get back to work. We have dealt with enough challenges. If you want us to be your partner in economic recovery, please get back around the table and start making hard decisions.