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Firms urged to explore new sectors to survive downturn

Contractors should look to non-traditional ‘niche’ areas to counteract the forecast fall in construction activity, economists have said.

Overall activity across the sector is set to fall by 0.5 per cent in 2011 and by a further 2.8 per cent in 2012, according to the latest forecasts from the Construction Products Association.

The outlook for this year has improved slightly compared with the CPA’s survey three months ago, when it predicted activity would fall by 0.8 per cent. But the forecast for 2012 has worsened.

However, alongside the pessimism there are areas where contractors can find opportunities for new work. The commercial office market is looking promising, with expected growth of 3.5 per cent this year, 10 per cent in 2012 and 18 per cent in 2013, according to the CPA forecasts.

This effect will be regional, as 40 per cent of the office market is within central London, said CPA economics director Noble Francis (pictured).

More jobs could follow from investment in the electricity sector, he said. The energy sector is set to grow by 14.5 per cent this year, 15.5 per cent the year after and 22.5 per cent in 2013.

“Energy opportunities are rife due to the planned nuclear power station activity and wind farms,” Dr Francis said. Companies should look for opportunities in growing subsectors, he stated.

Meanwhile, the latest research from economists Experian found that employment prospects for the industry - which have now fallen every month since January 2008 - remained ‘gloomy’.

The employment index was at 33, a drop of three points on the previous month and the lowest since May 2009.