The number of applications for key construction apprenticeships is significantly lower than the level required to boost housing supply, according to new data released by the Department of Further and Higher Education.
A National Skills Council report released in 2021 showed that construction labour numbers needed to increase from the present 40,000 full-time workers to 67,500 by 2025 in order to boost the rate of building to an average of 33,000 homes a year over the decade.
As part of the Housing For All plan, the government has aimed to expand housing development to levels last recorded during the Celtic Tiger when it wasn’t uncommon for between 50,000 to 90,000 homes to be built annually.
Figures released to Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan reveal that the number of new apprentices entering key wet trades including bricklaying, painting and decorating, floor and wall tiling, and plastering lags significantly behind the Celtic Tiger period.
Last year, apprenticeship registrations for brick and stone laying were recorded at 148, compared to 475 in 2006. Similarly, there were just 38 registrations for plastering apprenticeships compared to 220 in 2006. Applications for carpentry and joinery stood at 847 last year, down from 1,905 in 2006.
Mr O’Callaghan said the data evidences the challenge faced by the government and construction sector to significantly advance the supply of new homes to the market. The TD accused the government of adopting a ‘laissez-faire attitude’ to the problem.
“The government is taking a laissez-faire attitude to this. In terms of the challenges we have in housing, it is stark we are missing the numbers we should have in apprenticeships in key wet trades in particular. These are absolutely key roles for construction.
“We know we have workforce shortages in the construction sector and it’s really hard to understand why the government isn’t putting in a big drive to increase the number of apprenticeships and increase skills.”
Under the Housing for All plan, there are commitments included to help boost interest in apprenticeships. The plan includes a campaign targeted at school leavers to build up capacity in the sector and potentially adjust employment permit schemes to attract the required numbers of construction workers.
Last year, the creation of two new construction apprenticeships programmes in advanced quality surveying and also a new roofing and cladding scheme was announced by the Minister for Further and Higher Education. At the time, Minister Harris said that a total of €193 million was being invested by the government in expansion of apprenticeship programmes across the country to try to increase the number of tradespeople in the courses. The investment will be divided across new hospitality, logistics, equine, and agriculture, not just construction programmes.
O’Callaghan said that despite the action taken by the government, there are more “straightforward” measures that could advance the number of apprentices.
“The government could insist all public construction contracts have a percentage of apprenticeships on site. That is a straightforward thing that could be done. It has been done in other countries very successfully.”
In total, there were 5,262 new construction apprenticeship registrations in 2021, up from 3,295 in 2020. The vast majority of the increases were accounted for by 2,748 applications to be electrical apprentices.