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Where will all the construction workers come from to build the Ireland 2040 plan?

In the long-term apprenticeships will help, but what about in the next few years?

Construction of social homes in Clongriffin.
Construction of social homes in Clongriffin.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

ON FRIDAY, THE Project 2040 plan made €116 billion worth of pledges and industry groups are warning that it must be matched with adequate training if the promises are to be kept.

The plan makes a commitment to providing “capital supports” for new apprenticeship courses but the scale of the work that needs to be implemented is huge.

The Construction Industry Federation estimates that apprenticeships have fallen from a peak of about 27,000 during the previous decade’s housing boom to a current level of 3,000.

“We need to be signing up maybe 5,000 per year to be really meeting the demands of the industry and probably more into the future,” CIF spokesperson Shane Dempsey said following the publication of the government’s planning framework.

While the numbers themselves show that apprenticeships have taken a major hit in recent years, there’s also an image problem that must be reversed.

About 60% of school-leavers head for university or the IT system and Dempsey says part of the challenge is developing a culture that will see students and guidance counsellors viewing apprenticeships as a viable option.

There’s reputational damage over the last few years so we really need to show there’s a career there, there’s 10 years if not 25 years of work. Part of that is also about investing in modern technology and demonstrating that there are careers in construction beyond the work that’s done on site.

The commitment to support apprenticeships has also been welcomed by unions with ICTU’s Construction Industry Committee  saying they are currently “way below” what is required.

ICTU’s Billy Wall outlined how the issue of apprentices leaving Ireland for work in Australia and Canada who would benefit from a more direct route into employment here.

“Without these systems in place, the sector will struggle to attract the necessary workers which will impact negatively on the capacity of this plan to deliver critical infrastructure across the economy,” Wall said.

Working group

The also plan makes reference to the establishment of a working group that’s tasked with ensuring the construction sector is adequately supported throughout the period it covers.

It’s envisaged the Construction Sector Working Group will consist of government departments as well as the relevant agencies with representatives of the construction sector al represented.

Dempsey says this return to engagement is welcome and that the lack of it the past few years has been down to a lack of activity.

In the short-term, however, there’s concern that a gap may exist between the development of new apprenticeships and the more immediate need for labour.

CIF had estimated that construction activity could require 112,000 jobs up to 2020 under the government’s €43 billion capital programme.

Now that has significantly increased, with a commitment for 25,000-35,000 houses per year, Dempsey says this figure may have to grow and could lead to construction workers coming from abroad:

“The education sector will find it very difficult to deliver those kind of figures within three to four years.”

So you will get an influx of skilled labour, from Europe in particular. You may get a ‘Brexit effect’ of construction workers who may have focused on going to the UK instead coming to Ireland.

Read: ‘Mixed messages’ ‘Thumbs up’ ‘A cock-up’: Here’s some of the reactions to the government’s grand plan for Ireland >

Read: ‘They’d have announced a new hinge on a door’: Not everyone is impressed with the €11 billion plan for health >

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Rónán Duffy

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