Fears for economy as building sector apprentices decline

SERIOUS concerns have been voiced over the stability of the economy after it emerged the number of apprentices entering the construction sector has been halved in just under a year.

Figures released by training and employment authority FÁS have shown that, despite attempts to calm public anxiety over the economy, the vital construction sector has seen 1,300 fewer apprentices enter the workforce this year than in 2007, leading to a significant rise in 15- to 19-year-olds signing on the dole.

Between January and September this year, the number of apprentices entering the workforce fell by 39%, down 2,000 from 2007. However, while the economic downturn has been felt across the trades, the worst affected sector has been construction, which has seen a 54% (1,300 person) drop in apprentices compared with last year.

The latest information from FÁS’s Quarterly Labour Market Commentary has also revealed that there has been a “rapid rise” in the number of people on the live register this year, up 42% since the end of 2007.

Regionally, border counties have been hit by the downturn, with redundancies in the areas up 84% in the first nine months of 2008 compared with the same period last year.

Vacancies notified to the training and employment authority — established during the worst period of youth unemployment in the 1980s — have also slipped by 24% since last year, with “noticeable falls” in transport (down 50%), IT (down 43%), construction (down 43%), and retail (down 26%) all pointing to a worrying time for the Irish economy.

In further bad news, the latest FÁS figures further state that employment levels will continue their downward trend next year, with an expected 0.2% drop by the end of this year likely to be followed by a 3.8% decline in 2009.

The construction industry is likely to “bear the brunt of the job losses”, with a predicted 19.4% employment level drop and lay-offs in the house-building sector “compounded by redundancies in the commercial sector as the demand for office and retail property dries up”.

As a result of the negative trends, the FÁS report has also noted that migration to Ireland is expected to drop further next year, with net emigration reaching 27,000.

And with no sign of an economic recovery on the cards, FÁS senior economist Brian McCormick has said the current downturn is due to last years instead of months. “In the absence of a significant upturn in the world economy, a further contraction in labour demand is, at this early stage, the most likely scenario for 2010.”

Reacting to the figures, Fine Gael enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar said that the country’s “cash crisis” was even worse than feared.

“This is yet more evidence that Fianna Fáil both undermined the fundamentals of the domestic economy and failed to prepare

Ireland to cope with any external shocks that might come along,” he said.


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