Skills shortage could prolong housing crisis, builders warn

Number of apprentices ‘must double by 2020’ or the State will need foreign builders

Colin Gleeson

The number of new apprentices entering construction must more than double by 2020 or the State will need foreign competitors to satisfy market demand, the industry has said.

Dermot Carey, the Construction Industry Federation’s director of safety and training, made the remarks during an appearance before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills on recently.

He said construction employment could rise to 213,000 by 2020, and that the number of applications for apprenticeships must rise from 1,700 to 4,000 by then in order to deliver housing and infrastructure requirements.

The Republic’s economic recovery “may be hampered” by a potential skills shortage within the sector if more is not done.

Among the “mounting challenges” he said are facing the sector, there is “the potential for foreign competitors to enter the Irish construction market to meet the increasing demand for labour”.

“We are facing an enormous challenge,” he said. “We’re here today with a very clear warning. There is an urgent need for Government and industry to collaborate in attracting more people into the industry and to invest in construction skills training.

“The alternative is that we will fail to meet these targets, our housing crisis will continue and our infrastructure deficit will stall economic progress. This is a huge threat to Ireland and the long-term capacity of the construction industry.

“We need to address this by attracting people back into the industry from the live register, through our education system and by reaching out to those members of the diaspora with construction experience, and upskilling our existing workforce.

“We also drastically need to address the apprenticeship system, to ensure that we have a steady stream of skilled employees to sustain the construction activity our economy and society requires.”

The Irish construction industry has been hiring at a rate of 1,000 additional employees a month since 2013.

The sector is the principal industry sector in Ireland for the employment of apprentices. At its height, it employed nearly 27,000, or 92 per cent, of apprentices.

Following the decline of the economy from 2008 onwards, this number fell to a low of about 7,000 in 2013.

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