Huge ‘black hole’ in workforce as 50,000 construction workers are needed to tackle housing construction

More than 50,000 construction workers are urgently needed to fill a “black hole” in the workforce if the government is to meet targets to tackle the housing crisis.

An unpublished report has identified a serious shortage of electricians, plumbers, painters and bricklayers.

These workers must build the promised 33,000 homes per year by 2030 while meeting the government’s retrofit targets.

The report by the Solas training agency highlights major gaps across the training system that need to be filled over the next eight years.

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This includes a requirement of 7,038 electricians, 7,352 carpenters, 7,035 plumbers, 3,515 plasterers, 4,530 painters/decorators and 1,807 bricklayers by 2030.

The new figures also show the need for 1,587 roofers and tilers, while 4,555 insulators and 1,817 glaziers, window fitters and fitters are needed.

Overall, the report said that 51,697 construction workers and tradesmen of all kinds would be needed by the end of the decade if housing targets were to be met.

The figures include a few people who have already started training and are still in training.

The report comes as Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said a “very narrow and sometimes elitist view” of higher education has discouraged school leavers from taking up an apprenticeship.

“This has led to significant challenges – not least to psychological strain and stress for young people – but it has also led to a shortage of skilled workers in our country,” said the minister Irish Independent.

The Solas report recommends making apprenticeship programs for certain occupations shorter and more flexible in order to accelerate the number of people who can take up a job.

It identified a specific need for more plumbers, bricklayers and carpenters and suggested exploring whether financial incentives could attract people to these jobs. This could be done through grants or fellowships.

However, the government has not yet made a decision on how best to achieve the recommendation.

Employers are already incentivized to hire apprentices, and workers-focused policies are expected to be considered.

In the meantime, a national center for training and assessment of construction skills is to be opened. It will be modeled after a similar institution in the UK.

There are also plans to open six retrofit centers linked to Education Training Boards across the country.

The centers will be used to upskill thousands of workers who will help the government meet its goal of retrofitting 500,000 homes by 2030.

As of April 19, 1,810 people were registered in apprenticeships, 1,597 of them in trades such as electricians, plumbers and carpenters

Apprenticeship enrollments have increased significantly over the past four years, largely due to the resurgence of the construction sector since the financial crisis and the government’s push to encourage more people into the profession.

In 2021 alone, a record-breaking 8,607 new apprentices were registered. This was an increase of nearly 40 percent from the 2019 figures.

A further €17 million has been budgeted to fund Solas and the Health and Education Board’s response to the backlog in the education system.

In addition, a number of agreed measures will be implemented to clean up the lists.

These include changes in delivery structures for off-the-job training and an opt-in rapid employer assessment, which is currently being piloted.

Mr Harris said he would “ramp up” the introduction of courses to train plumbers, electricians, plasterers and painters.

“Last year, for example, about 6,000 people were studying construction and this year it’s going to be 9,000 – so we’re growing every year,” said Mr. Harris.

“My message to people is that we will be able to match the supply of places. We will be able to offer places for further education through apprenticeships.

“We have to create demand now. We need enough people who know about this to put their hands up and say, ‘I want to help us build the future, to help build the homes we need’.”

Mr. Harris urged young people to consider training when completing their CAO forms as they approach their Leaving Cert.

“We have to try and get people together on the live register who might have an interest or background in it. We need to provide them with a piece of upskilling and reskilling that may only take weeks,” he said.

“In certain cases, much of the retrofit training can be completed in three days if you so choose
have a background in construction – but it’s a huge challenge.” Huge ‘black hole’ in workforce as 50,000 construction workers are needed to tackle housing construction

Fry Electronics Team

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