Demand for highly skilled engineering contractors is on the rise, as the Irish job market continues to heat up and a growing number of employers report critical skills shortages. 

With the latest CSO Labour Force Survey showing a 9.8% rise in employment in the year to the end of September, demand for business-critical roles is on the up. 

Automotive, chemicals, aerospace, and industrial automation

In particularly high demand are experienced engineering contractors with sought-after skills critical to export-driven sectors, such as automotive, chemicals, aerospace, and industrial automation. 

Jimmy Sheehan, managing director of Contracting Plus

“In line with the latest CSO Labour Force Survey, our own figures for September showed a 6% year-on-year rise in the number of engineering contractors signing up to avail of our services,” said Jimmy Sheehan, managing director of Contracting Plus, a specialist accountancy firm for professional contractors. 

“We’re not at all surprised, because these highly-skilled professionals tend to work in the innovative and transformative side of business. 

“They bring immediate value to companies because their expertise allows businesses to be more agile – to do things that can have a positive impact on their bottom line in a relatively short time frame. 

“It might mean that companies can accept a contract they might otherwise have to turn down, for example, trial a new product or enter a new market without having to commit to full-time recruitment until they’re sure it will be warranted over the longer term.” 

Highly skilled engineering professionals also play a wider economic role in stimulating innovation through skills transfer, said Sheehan. 

“The engineering contractors we work with are really at the top of their game. The majority work in knowledge-intensive sectors, they are midway or more through their career, and they have built up a bank of knowledge, expertise and experience that is highly attractive to companies. 

“Coming into a business to lead a project, they will be working with, training, and supporting in-house staff. Their expertise is suffused into the business, and out into other businesses, as these employees move on. 

“They are enormously valuable, and, because of that, they command high pay rates and can build and sustain very successful contracting careers that can withstand economic turbulence more than others.” 

And, with the latest CSO figures showing a sizable upswing in the Irish labour market trends, demand for engineering contractors is likely to rise further in the months ahead, according to Sheehan, as evidence of critical skills shortages continues to mount. 

A staggering 91% of Irish employers have experienced recruitment challenges in the past 12 months, according to a survey released recently by Hays Plc, the recruitment group. 

Knock-on effect on business performance

Based on a survey of 1,500 employers and professionals conducted in September, the Hays Ireland Salary and Recruiting Trends Guide found that skills shortages had also had a negative knock-on effect on business performance, impacting productivity and profit margins. 

Half of the businesses surveyed by Hays said an ongoing skills shortage had driven down organisational productivity, 39% said it had impaired their ability to deliver key projects, and 30% said it stalled their plans for expansion. 

“All of this bodes well for high-skilled engineers who might be considering a move into contracting work in the near future,” said Sheehan. 

“This is exactly the type of scenario in which their crucial, and often overlooked, importance to the Irish economy really shines, because they can come on board quickly to help deliver those key projects, drive the expansion, and the boost productivity in businesses that would otherwise suffer. We definitely expect to see a further rise in contract roles for highly-skilled engineers in the months ahead.” 

So, what can high-skilled contract engineers expect to earn? Earlier this year, Contracting Plus partnered with Trinity Business School to publish Ireland’s Project Economy, the first ever report in the Irish market to focus solely on high-skilled independent professional contractors. 

Average daily rate of €460

“We found that engineering contractors earned an average daily rate of €460, their average age is 49 and their contracts last, on average, 20 months,” said Sheehan. 

“A total of 86% work in the private sector, 79% have a bachelor’s degree and 31% have a master’s. 

“They are also confident about their future. Even back in May, before the job market began to recover, 75% told us that their experience was in demand and 60% said it was easy for them to find another contract.” 

For experienced engineers who might be considering a new career in contracting, Sheehan has this advice: “Make sure that you lay the groundwork before you make the jump. Lean on your network – people who already know what you can do – so they know when you will be available and what kind of contract roles and projects you’re interested in,” he said. 

A total of 1,458 respondents were surveyed for Ireland’s Project Economy report, and 38% said they relied on their own initiative to find new work. A total of 21% rely on a recruitment agency, and the rest use a combination of both. 

“This really shows the importance of networking for independent professionals. Those who are moving in their industry circle and connecting to peers and contract recruitment companies will find it easier to move on to new roles,” said Sheehan.