Business Irish

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Ward & Burke boss urges action on construction staff and skills shortage

Crisis: Ward & Burke has warned that staff and skills shortages could hit the construction and engineering sectors
Crisis: Ward & Burke has warned that staff and skills shortages could hit the construction and engineering sectors
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

The government needs to do more to tackle a skills and staff deficit in the construction sector, a boss of one of Ireland's largest indigenous specialised engineering firms, Ward & Burke, has warned.

Padraig Burke told the Irish Independent that the shortage of staff has also put upward pressure on wages.

He said that trades have been "sold short" and that there's "more to just going to college and coming out with a degree".

The engineering firm director also said the country is "behind the curve" in terms of encouraging more people into trades via apprenticeships.

"We need to address this idea, where concentrating solely on CAO points is seen as the only way forward for our young people," said Mr Burke.

Galway-based Ward & Burke, which employs about 800 people, is currently working with bodies including the Construction Industry Federation and the National Construction Training Centre to develop a trainee programme for pipelayers.

"This is a critical resource requirement in the context of water mains rehabilitation, which is a significant programme of work ongoing across the country," said Mr Burke.

Ward & Burke has posted results for 2018 that show its turnover jumped 19pc to €228m, while its pre-tax profit soared 86pc to €7.1m.

The revenue figure was ahead of expectations.

The group works in Ireland, the UK and North America generating about one-third of its revenue in each of the regions. Most of its revenue in North America is generated in Canada.

Ward & Burke specialises in drainage and sewage projects, but also undertakes other works such as bridge construction, urban regeneration and other major civil engineering and construction contracts. Its clients include Irish Water as well as Yorkshire Water.

It has been involved in a number of high-profile projects, including the Cork Lower Harbour Main Drainage scheme.

In the UK, it's been involved in a multimillion-pound project in Blackpool to store storm water.

The firm, which is equally owned by Padraig Burke, Michael Ward and Robert Ward, is also involved in a major Thames sewer project.

The latest set of accounts for the company show that it generated €70.2m of its turnover in Ireland last year, €68m in the United Kingdom, and €89.7m in the rest of the world.

Ward & Burke is working on projects in Canadian cities including Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver.

Two years ago, Ward & Burke completed the acquisition of Irish firm Response Engineering.

Turnover at that unit rose to €15.5m last year from €13.4m in 2017, a figure included in the group revenue.

Ward & Burke said it has also invested roughly €47m in plant and related facilities over the past four years. Mr Burke said the group has no immediate plans to make any additional acquisitions and will instead focus on organic growth.

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