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Specialist contractors continue to enjoy improved trading conditions according to the latest NSCC State of Trade Survey, which shows an increase in orders for a fourth successive quarter.

The recent seasonal trend of a decline in orders in the third quarter did not materialise this year with the balance of orders, the difference between respondents reporting an increase in those reporting a decrease, reaching its highest level since 2006.

This has left specialist contractors with a skills gap which CITB highlighted in a report earlier this year. 21% of respondents reported finding it more difficult to recruit skilled labour this quarter, with those finding it less difficult plummeting to just 3%. 68% attributed the difficulty to the low number of applicants with the necessary skills and 50% to a lack of experience. The number of specialist contractors unable to bid for work due to skills shortages reached 13%, the highest level since 2007.

The issue has clearly been recognised with 39% of specialist contractors expecting to take on at least one apprentice over the next 12 months and two-thirds of those looking to recruit two or more apprentices.

NSCC Chief Executive Suzannah Nichol said: “It would appear that the outlook for specialist contractors is increasingly positive with almost half of  specialist contractors expecting to expand their businesses over the next year. However, it is now time  to invest in our workforce to prevent future skills shortages and safeguard the successful long term  growth of the industry.”

NSCC contributes its findings to the State of Trade Survey published by the Construction Products Association, enabling the experiences of the specialist sector to be compared with the wider industry.