The construction industry has become one of the most buoyant areas of the economy. Last year, the industry added about 1,000 jobs every month. However, skills shortages are hampering growth.
In 2016, DKM, the economic consultants, produced a report, “Demand for Skills in Construction to 2020” for the Construction Industry Federation (CIF). The report found that the industry would need an additional 76,000 workers over four years. It also warned that that there is considerable concern about the lack of skilled workers.
CAO figures show that students are increasingly opting to study architecture, engineering and courses linked to the built environment.
However, the number of apprentices across trades is worryingly low. In 2007, the construction industry had 23,700 apprentices. In 2016, there were just 4,400. As a result, there may not be enough people with the necessary skills to meet the demand.
Adding to the shortage is the large number of skilled workers who emigrated during the recession. Many had little choice.
Over five years of recession, the construction industry shed 180,000 jobs. In the first quarter of 2013, the industry employed nearly two-thirds fewer people than during the peak year 2007.
Unsurprisingly, this negatively affected the industry’s image. Although the number of third-level students choosing construction industry courses is up, the DKM report notes that improving the perception of the industry is crucial.
The number of qualified workers and apprentices in skilled crafts significantly dropped since the recession. One of the hardest hit was bricklayers and masons. The industry employed around two-thirds fewer of these craftspeople between the last quarters of 2007 and 2015. Over the same period, the number of apprentices dropped by 96.7 percent.
In addition, the industry shed 72 percent of its qualified plasterers, floorers and wall tillers. Apprentices for these fell 96.5 percent.
The DKM report recommended that the government and industry should work together to improve skills capacity. In addition, it suggested setting up a Construction Skills Forum to monitor progress and address barriers in the education and training system.
However, the construction industry needs skilled people now. Therefore, the report also recommends an international recruitment drive to target skilled workers who have left.
They also recommended working with SOLAS and Education and Training Board to deliver construction skills. This would help ease shortages as well as take people off the unemployment register.
In an interview with the magazine Irish Building, CIF Director General Tom Parlon noted that Irish construction firms can offer international experience.
“The CIF is now working to highlight the fact that construction can now provide globalised and innovation driven careers. The traditional crafts are in high demand but increasingly technology and innovation are producing new careers within the construction field. Many Irish companies internationalised, building infrastructure and commercial buildings in London, Dubai, China and many other global centres. These companies are now recognised as global leaders - the PM group is building the largest pharma plant in the world in China at the moment.”