Fianna Fáil Education spokesperson Charlie McConalogue has expressed alarm at the low level of apprentices signing up for programmes in the construction sector. According to reports this morning only 10 plasterers, bricklayers and painter/decorators will qualify in their trades in 2018, despite a planned construction drive over the next 10 years.
Deputy McConalogue commented, “These figures are extremely worrying, particularly given the housing shortage this country is facing. Only this week the ESRI stated that we need to build 12,500 housing units a year to cope with demand, however, the lack of qualified tradespeople will put serious pressure on those targets.
“Ten years ago, we had 700 bricklayers and 300 plasterers in training programmes. While the downturn in the construction industry has had an impact on the numbers entering trades, the introduction of fees for FÁS apprentices has also served as a major deterrent.
“The Government is now facing a major crisis. There are around 100,000 people on the social housing list because of the Government’s failure to act on the issue. Earlier this year the Taoiseach launched the Construction 2020 project, however, without skilled labour, this strategy will fall well short of the mark.
“Ministers need to adopt a plan to encourage more people into apprenticeships if the social housing emergency is to be addressed effectively. Confidence in the construction sector needs to be restored and apprenticeships must be marketed as a viable option for the thousands of people still on the Live Register.
“Apprenticeships should be used as a method of getting job seekers to up-skill, learn new trades and get back into the workplace. Many have been deterred by the introduction of fees in the last Budget, and steps must be taken to address this. People on the Live Register will find it extremely difficult to come up with the €540 fee, which were brought in this year, and steps must be taken to encourage more people onto apprenticeship programmes.
“According to the figures, only 4 people have taken up a plastering apprenticeship, there are three studying to be bricklayers and a further three on the painting and decorating programme. There are no new floor and wall tiling apprentices this year. If the apprenticeship uptake remains at these chronically low levels, we’ll be facing a massive skills shortage at a time when the country is about to embark on a housing construction drive.
“The Government cannot afford to sit back and allow this situation to continue. Unless urgent action is taken, the housing crisis will continue to spiral out of control and the numbers languishing on social housing lists will increase. Tradespeople are essential in tackling this crisis and it is up to Ministers to ensure we have the skillset in this country to enable its recovery.”