Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Business, Enterprise and Innovation Billy Kelleher has said that a lack of contingency planning by the Government to address severe skills shortages in the Irish labour market will hamper future economic growth.

Deputy Kelleher was commenting after Minister Humphreys confirmed to him that just four civil servants are currently working in the Department of Business’s Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGSN) which is tasked with responding to changing skills demands in the Irish economy.

“To say that I am shocked by this lack of preparedness would be an understatement. Bearing in mind that we are approaching full employment, many businesses across the spectrum of economic activity are very worried about chronic skills shortages.

“I don’t believe that four members of staff is adequate enough to deal with the complexities of the Irish labour market and to identify where changes need to be made to address future skills shortages.

“Who is asking the questions about what skill sets will be needed in five or ten years’ time? Who is asking which skill sets will no longer be needed and what workers need to be retrained in the skills of the future to keep them in jobs?

“Add in the fact that the EGSN has seen its funding cut by 20% over the past four years, and I see a major problem coming down the tracks.

“As far back as 2016, SOLAS pointed to sector skill shortages in ICT, science, engineering business, finance, healthcare and construction. These deficits have only gotten worse over the past two years.

“The European Commission’s 2018 Digital Economy and Society Index recently showed that more than half of the Irish adult population are lacking at least basic digital skills.

“Focusing on housing alone, we simply do not have the skilled workers needed to build the public, affordable and private housing that our economy needs to keep growing. At March 31st this year, there was only 122 apprentices in brick and stone laying, 69 in plastering and zero in floor and wall tilling in total.

“Apprenticeship uptake has fallen off a cliff under Fine Gael. In 2007 there were 28,500 persons enrolled in the overall apprenticeship population by the end of March this year, there was just 13,327 enrolled – nearly a 50% drop.

“Unless Minister Humphreys starts doing what is needed to deal with skills shortages, our competitiveness will be damaged and the ability of the economy to grow will be held back,” concluded Kelleher.