In Scotland between 1995 and 2000 the employment growth in the construction industry was only 2%.
Construction employment in the Highlands has traditionally been higher than Scottish or UK levels, however.
Employment patterns in the industry suit the Sutherland context: construction employment is dominated by small companies and self-employed workers. Some 96% of companies employ 10 workers, or fewer. Much of the work carried out by large firms is sub-contracted to these smaller companies. But there is a gradual move towards more large firms and lower levels of self-employment.
The construction industry in Scotland is worth £10 billion in sales and turnover and employs 132,000 people. Locally there are at least 9,000 construction workers in the Highlands, and in our region, an estimated 800 - 1000 workers.
Although the Scottish industry has not been growing quickly, there are positive signs, with an estimated need for 33,000 new workers by the end of this year. Much of the demand is 'replacement demand' filling gaps left by people leaving the industry. Construction workers do not usually stay in the industry until their retirement age.
There are big skills shortages in the industry identified by the Construction Industry Training Board. The biggest need is for joiners and carpenters but there is also a need for managers, electricians, plumbers and bricklayers. These are being remedied, in part, through an influx of workers from the new EU countries of Eastern Europe.
At the moment demand is being driven by PFI projects, housing stock transfers, urban regeneration schemes and road construction projects.
The completion of some major PFI and publicly funded projects in the Highlands explains the recent drop in construction employment.
The decommissioning of Dounreay nuclear power station (in neighbouring Caithness) will create a significant demand for construction work in its initial phase, and local businesses, in Sutherland as well as Caithness itself, are best placed to take advantage of this.
There are a number of construction projects in Sutherland itself which will also generate employment, including:
- Extensive private sector housing and commercial proposals for Brora;
- Affordable housing projects in Dornoch and elsewhere;
- Numerous windfarm proposals across the county;
- Development of business parks in Golspie and Dornoch;
- The construction of a major new Highland Council area headquarters building on the outskirts of Golspie.