Building sector lacking tradespeople, apprentices

A new survey of 229 building firms has made the “alarming discovery” that almost 90% have an inadequate supply of qualified tradespeople, while fewer than 30% currently have apprentices.

The survey, conducted by academics at Dublin Institute of Technology, stated: “Should the construction industry continue to grow as predicted, the lack of new construction apprenticeship registrations since 2013 will have a long-term impact on the ability of the construction sector to reach potential output.”

The survey, mostly of members of the Construction Industry Federation, includes a call by the CIF for measures to tackle the skills gap, which it said is essential to deliver on longer-term requirements such as the National Development Plan.

According to the Trades and Apprenticeships Skills Survey: the Employers’ Perspective, “one critical discovery from the research is that 86% of respondent companies note that there is an inadequate supply of qualified tradespeople, and this figure increases to 94% of large respondent firms.

“Skills gaps have emerged across the full range of construction trades and are most pronounced in the ‘wet’ trades (e.g. plastering). The shortage is so severe that there exists the potential for long-term problems, such as in the case of floor and wall tiling, where no new apprentices have been registered in the last number of years.”

The top three barriers to employing tradespeople were identified as discontinuous demand for work, onerous legislative obligations, and the costs of direct employment of construction trades.

As for employing apprentices, just 29% of respondent companies currently employ apprenticeships — primarily carpentry and joinery, followed by electrician and plumbing.

“It may be concluded from the low number of firms engaging apprentices that residual uncertainty remains within the industry, consequently a reluctance to employ apprentices for up to four years,” the report said.

Barriers to engaging in apprentice training were listed as the cost of releasing apprentices to on-the-job training, a lack of incentives from Government, and legislative obligations described as “too onerous”.

In the report foreword, CIF chief Tom Parlon said apprenticeships are essential to the sustainability of the construction industry, but for many firms, “taking on an apprentice is beyond their financial capacity. In other words, a gap has emerged between industry and the apprentice in trades that are critical to the delivery of the housing and infrastructure”.

He said closing this gap will need to be a collaborative effort with the State.

Recommendations include the targeted use of the National Training Fund (NTF), zero-rate employers PRSI contributions for those engaging apprentices in trades in need of stimulus and the reintroduction of the statutory employer redundancy rebate as an incentive to employment.

Dermot Carey of the CIF said:

“An apprenticeship is employer-led, they tend to be small employers, family-run, and they are not confident about looking four years ahead and they take a short-term view. We need them to be confident in investing in training and in people.”

Original article by Noel Baker of the Irish Examiner

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