a CONSTRUCTION organisation will meet Junior Minister Kevin Humphreys next week to discuss the country's dire lack of apprentice tradesmen.
The Construction Workers Alliance (CWA) believes one of the major problems is that foreign firms operating in Ireland are unable to register trainees.
The firms, many of them based in the North, are involved in publicly-funded capital projects through sub-contract arrangements, the CWA said.
But further education body Solas will only recognise apprentices who have been taken on by companies registered in the Republic, the CWA's Kenneth O'Connor said.
His comments come following revelations that there will be only four newly-qualified plasterers in 2018.
Only three apprentice bricklayers and three painters and decorators are also in their first year of training.
That compares with 700 first-year apprentice bricklayers in 2004.
Mr O'Connor said his group will be meeting Mr Humphreys, a Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, about the issue.
He does not believe emigration has played a huge role in the shortage as apprentices start at the age of 16 or 17.
"People don't emigrate at that age," he said.
"If foreign contractors are being used on major sites here, they cannot register apprentices.
"They cannot register an apprentice in the State if they (the company) are registered outside the State".
He said Northern Ireland-based firms are being used on some of the country's biggest taxpayer-funded capital projects, meaning none of them has trainee labourers on site.
A report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) said Ireland needs to build around 12,500 homes a year until 2021 to meet demand.
A representative of Solas said: "The Irish apprenticeship system has a statutory framework. Employers are required by law to be registered and have a business address in the Irish jurisdiction in order to participate in the training of apprentices in Ireland."
The apprenticeship system in Northern Ireland - ApprenticeshipNI - is an entirely different scheme for training apprentices and has its roots in UK legislation.
"However, Solas has a process for determining the suitability of companies located outside the jurisdiction of the State to recruit, register and train apprentices within the jurisdiction of the State provided they have a registered office here," said the representative.
Construction Industry Federation director general Tom Parlon said some of the apprentice figures are "deeply worrying", adding: "We need to be encouraging more young people into these apprenticeships."