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Massive skills shortage 
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CIF Director General Tom Parlon

CIF Director General Tom Parlon

The fall in those taking up apprentices

The fall in those taking up apprentices

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CIF Director General Tom Parlon

Ireland will have just four newly-qualified plasterers in 2018 at a time when the population will be looking for thousands of new homes to be built.

In the same year only three apprentice bricklayers and three painter and decorators will also qualify.

The staggering drop in the numbers of people signing up for apprenticeships across a range of trades - considered essential for the country to escape the crippling housing shortage - is revealed in stark new figures. Just 10 years ago, almost 700 bricklayers were in their first year of training with over 300 people pursuing careers in plastering.

Emigration is believed to be a major contributor in the drop in the numbers taking up apprenticeships, with the collapse in the building industry resulting in a mass exodus of young people seeking opportunities in places like Canada, the United States and Australia.

The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) yesterday said the country risks having a major skills shortage when it comes to providing some 90,000 homes over the next seven years.

"Some of the figures for the construction apprentices are deeply worrying. We need to be encouraging more young people into these apprenticeships as their talents will be required," CIF Director General Tom Parlon warned.

Apprenticeships are seven-phase programmes run over four years. The phases are split between on-site training, where trainees gain first-hand experience of working in the trade, and classroom-based phases. Apprentices are assessed at the end of each phase.

Only applicants who have secured work with a company which has agreed to sponsor the entirety of the apprenticeship can take up a place.

A report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) this week said we need to build around 12,500 units a year up to 2021, with 86pc of them within the Dublin commuter belt.

But the drop in people taking up trades now poses the threat of a massive skills shortfall for the new developments.

Alarmingly, zero people have so far taken up apprenticeships in floor and wall tiling this year, with just 10 apprentices in plastering, bricklaying and painting.

Last year only 21 people began apprenticeships across these four trades.

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Elsewhere, only 42 people have taken up metalwork apprenticeships and 69 people started carpentry apprenticeships up to June of this year. There will be 168 newly qualified plumbers and 385 electricians in 2018.

Mr Parlon added: "There is great concern throughout the construction industry about the number of new entrants in the apprenticeship system. As the sector grows we will need new employees in the industry.

"The CIF is working with Solas and the unions to help develop an improved apprenticeship system. We can't allow this trend to continue. Otherwise we risk having insufficient construction skills in this country at a time when the industry will need them," he added.

A spokesperson for the Environment Minister Alan Kelly, who has responsibility for housing, said the Government has set improving housing availability and affordability as one of its key priorities.

Strategy

"The central aim of the strategy is to provide homes for people by tripling housing output by 2020 and adding 60,000 jobs to the construction sector over the same period," he said.

Solas, the agency which manages the apprenticeship programmes, said encouraging people to take up apprenticeships is solely the responsibility of employers in the various trade sectors. A spokesperson added the agency is open to working "with all stakeholders to find a workable solution to increase the number of registrations across the wide spectrum of trades".

A review of the apprenticeship scheme was carried out last year by Labour Court chairman Kevin Duffy.

He made a number of recommendations including the expansion of the apprenticeship model into a range of new sectors.

It also suggested legislative change to enable a more flexible model of delivery and the development of pre-apprenticeship programmes.


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