If this year was about putting in place policies to address supply issues in housing, 2017 will be about ensuring the industry has sufficient numbers of skilled workers.
Failure to do so could stymie Minister Simon Coveney’s ambitious strategy that calls for a near doubling of housing activity up to 2020.
Strategies underpin the entire economic and social trajectory of Irish society for the next decade, so it’s essential the construction industry has the capacity to deliver the accommodation, roads, rail, schools and water infrastructure and specialist buildings required over the next decade.
A recent report by DKM Consultants, which the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) commissioned, identified that the industry needs a further 112,000 skilled employees.
Unfortunately, producing skilled trades and craft people is like building houses: It takes time. Like housing, activity will lag policy changes. The Irish education and training system will be under pressure to nearly double the level of skilled people to meet the demand.
With CAO applications for construction courses only beginning to recover from historic lows, we are only likely to see modest increases over the coming years. Even a large increase in numbers applying through CAO in 2017 would only work its way into the industry in 2021.
The industry and Government are looking to ‘upskill’ people on the Live Register with construction experience. By some estimates, there could up to 45,000 people with construction experience on the register.
Considering the industry is hiring an additional 1,000 people a month for the last 40 months, the pool of potential workers has hopefully been reduced as people get back into the industry.
The Irish diaspora is also a large resource. Many emigrated to Canada, Australia, the Middle East, and the US. The industry and a number of State agencies and private agencies are targeting the diaspora to urge them to return.
Based on the DKM report, CIF identified that 15,200 electricians, 7, 800 bricklayers, 11,800 plumbers, 30,800 carpenters and joiners and 13,900 plasters and floor and tilers will be needed over the coming years. In addition, 9,400 painters and decorators, 9,600 managers, 18,100 operatives and 27,600 labourers will be needed.
A quick view of Dublin shows 70 cranes on the skyline. Shire, MSD, Amazon and Facebook have announced or started office projects. For 2016, it is expected 14,000 new homes will have been built, and 32,500 homes in 2020.
Infrastructure and housing are key factors in ensuring recovery will reach all parts of the land. When indirect employment is taken into account, construction employs 191,700 people, or 9.5% of all jobs.
The impact of an additional 112,000 workers will have a profound impact on Irish communities with a huge recycling of wages and profits within local communities.
Tom Parlon is director general at the business group Construction Industry Federation.
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