The specialist sector looks to be entering a period of positivity, according to the latest NSCC State of Trade Survey.
The results for the second quarter of 2013 showed specialist contractors reporting an increase in enquires for the third quarter in a row, up to a six-year high of 49 per cent, with only 24 per cent reporting a decrease.
Order levels were also up with 44 per cent reporting an increase, compared with just 27 per cent last quarter.
This increase in trade led 31 per cent of specialist contractors to look at expanding their businesses in the next three months with 41 per cent planning expansion over the next year.
However, their plans may be hindered by the number of skilled workers that have left the industry to seek alternative employment during the downturn.
Twenty per cent of specialist contractors reported more difficulty in recruiting skilled labour, the highest level for more than five years, and 9 per cent said they were unable to bid for work in Q2 because of skills shortages.
In order to stop this trend as the industry recovers, the NSCC said it was essential to start investing in the development of new talent.
The organisation said it was working closely with CITB to facilitate apprenticeships and upskill for specialist contractors.
Late payment is still affecting specialists with just 5 per cent receiving payment within 30 days. For the 54 per cent of respondents who carried out public sector work, 74 per cent of their contracts were reported as being paid within 30 days.
The NSCC said this was encouraging, although with 30-day payment now a contractual requirement on central government contracts, there was still more work to be done to ensure that all specialist contractors benefit from the government’s commitment to prompt payment.
NSCC chief executive Suzannah Nichol said: “After an extremely tough few years, it’s good to see optimism returning in the specialist sector.
“However, successful long-term growth will only be possible if the industry solves the problem of late payment which continues to impact on the supply chain.
“This has been recognised in the government’s industrial strategy for construction and the NSCC will be working with the government to ensure that the commitment to address payment practices is taken forward.”