Key building jobs barred to foreigners

Dozens of key construction jobs are currently ineligible to non-nationals — despite thousands being needed to meet building demands.

Business group Ibec and the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) have both pointed to the drastic need for non-national construction workers in order to meet building needs over the coming years.

However, the Department of Business Enterprise and Employment (DBEI) currently lists a range of construction jobs ineligible to non-nationals for work permits.

These include: Bricklayers and masons; roofers; roof tilers and slaters; plumbers and heating and ventilating engineers; carpenters and joiners, glaziers, window fabricators and fitters; plasterers; floorers and wall tilers; painters and decorators; and construction and building trades supervisors.

A spokesperson for the CIF said the organisation had predicted the skills shortage being experienced in the sector as far back as 2015 and said it has made a detailed submission to the DBEI to have a number of essential trades on the eligible list for work permits for those outside the EU.

The DBEI said a review of the work permits list is under way at present and is expected to be finalised before the end of the month. The CIF submission is “under active consideration” as part of this review.

“Changes to the occupation lists are made following a clear demonstration that recruitment difficulties within Ireland and across the European Economic Area (EEA) are not as a result of factors such as salary, employment conditions or lack of upskilling opportunities but that genuine skills and labour shortages exist for the specific occupations in question,” said a statement.

In its quarterly economic outlook published earlier this month, business group Ibec said that the number of non-nationals employed in the construction sector will have to “increase significantly” in order to fill the estimated 60,000 to 80,000 construction jobs needed to meet building demands over the coming years.

In the past 12 months, the number of non-nationals employed in construction over the past year stood at only 3,800.

The head of education and policy at Ibec, Tony Donohoe, said there are “particularly acute shortages” of general operatives, skilled trades (carpentry and electricians) along with architects and building services engineers. He pointed out that this list is growing and the domestic labour market cannot meet demand.

Between 2005 and 2009, more than 200,000 people moved to Ireland from Central and Eastern Europe and these workers relieved the sector’s labour demand pressures. However, economic conditions in these countries have improved considerably in recent years and we will need to look to third-country (non-EU) nationals to bridge skills gaps.

“As part of its regular reviews of work permits, the DBEI should take into account the specific requirements of strategically important sectors such as construction.

"Our work permit regime should be tailored not just for skilled workers but also for general operatives. Separately, Government should undertake an international promotional campaign to highlight construction opportunities in Ireland over the next decade,” he said.

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