Construction in the southeast: how can the region tackle its current skills shortage?
04 July 2017
The construction sector in the southeast is the third-largest private sector in the region, representing in excess of 8% of total regional employment. It has been identified by SOLAS as the sector with the greatest growth potential in the region.
However, the sector in the southeast is significantly dependent upon the greater Dublin market. Additionally, most of the large construction companies operating in the region are also operating nationally and internationally.
There are significant career opportunities in the construction sector, particularly for those willing to travel nationally and internationally. Professionals and associate professionals are in significant demand across the construction sector.
There is a significant range of education and training opportunities for learners across Level 4 to Level 9 on the National Framework of Qualifications in engineering, construction and craft in the South East.
The sector suffers from a poor image due to Ireland’s recent history of ‘boom and bust’ in construction. As a result, insufficient numbers of learners are choosing courses relevant to the sector including engineering, construction and craft disciplines. The construction sector in the southeast has identified the need for more effective promotion of the range of career opportunities it offers.
By working more closely together, the construction sector and education and training providers in the region can respond appropriately to the growing demand for skills in the sector. This will involve a mix of responses including amending courses to suit workforce development, developing some new courses and evolving existing courses to meet changing standards.
The following construction occupations are in short supply in the region:
- Quantity surveyors;
- Civil engineers;
- Building service engineers;
- Building information modeling (BIM) technicians;
- Health and safety officers;
- Structural engineers;
- Construction managers;
- Site foremen.
Construction activity in the southeast
The level of construction activity in the southeast has only increased slightly in 2016, with the main areas of activity in public works (schools, health centres, etc), some industrial projects and one-off housing. This is reflected in the level of employment in construction in the region at 16,900 for 2016 compared to 16,100 in 2015 (source: Annual average employment per QNHS 2015 and 2016).
However, there is growing evidence of significant demand for professionals and craft persons in the region, particularly from mechanical and electrical contractors and other professional service providers to the construction sector.
Most of this demand is driven by construction activity in Dublin and, to a lesser extent, in Cork and Limerick as well as abroad. This is evidenced by a 41% growth in the level of employment in professional services (which includes professional services across a variety of sectors including construction) in the region at 12,300 for 2016 compared to 8,700 in 2015. (source: Annual average employment per QNHS 2015 and 2016).
It is anticipated that construction activity will grow in the region and nationally, requiring a significant increase in the number of persons required across all construction-related disciplines.
Many companies in this sector note that the level of competitiveness for construction contracts is intense.
Construction enterprises in the southeast
The CSO Business Demography Survey for 2014 recorded 5,348 enterprises categorising themselves as being in ‘construction’ and engaging 11,285 persons. This is significantly less than the 16,900 estimated in construction by the CSO Quarterly National Household Survey for 2016.
The CSO Business Demography Survey categorises many construction related enterprises under other headings such as engineering activities, architectural, professional, scientific & technical services, specialist design and others. Wexford has a particularly high number of enterprises engaged in construction:
Construction activity in Ireland is still very concentrated around Dublin. This is supported by feedback to the South East Regional Skills Forum from the construction sector in the southeast. Companies relate that many of those engaged in construction from the southeast are travelling to Dublin for work.
The high proportion of construction projects located in Leinster gives strong evidence of the predominance of construction in Dublin, as follows:
The annual registrations for construction related trades increased significantly in 2016. The registrations for electrical apprenticeships in 2016 were ahead of the 2017 forecast. Carpentry and plumbing registrations have recovered and are on track to achieve the 2020 forecasts. However, the increase for the ‘wet trades’ of bricklaying and plastering was from a very low base and is significantly behind the targets for 2020.
National Apprenticeship Registrations & Forecast Registrations for 2017 and 2020
|Painting & Decorating||161||19||27||45||110|
|Construction Plant Fitter||88||77||59||75||80|
|Wood Manufacturing & Finishing||221||48||71||90||140|
2017 forecast by SOLAS, 2020 forecast by DKM Consultants
Changing regulations and the live register
The EU Directives relating to construction have been recently updated, with the recast Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) introducing the concept of nearly zero energy buildings (NZEB) – and specifying that by 31 December 2018 new buildings occupied and owned by public authorities must meet the nearly zero-energy standard. By 31 December 2020, all new buildings must meet the nearly zero- energy standard.
This has significant implications for the construction sector and will require existing companies and employees to retrain and upskill to meet these higher building standards. The challenge will be to deliver this training in a sustainable format that will be supported by the construction sector.
As of January 31 2017, there were 36,974 people on the live register in the southeast. Some 19% of those are from crafts and related occupations group and 19% are from the plant and machinery operatives occupational group, giving a total of 38% combined. Below is a breakdown of each occupational group by county.
|Occupational Group on Live Register by County||South Tipperary||Carlow||Waterford||Wexford||Kilkenny||Totals|
|Craft and Related Occupations||936||1359||1492||2516||799||7,102|
|Plant and Machinery Operatives||1539||753||1342||2075||1206||6,915|
Source: Department of Social Protection, January 2017
The above categories are very broad and include persons with experience across a variety of sectors. They also include some people who are working seasonally or part time. Nonetheless, the figures give an indication of the availability of persons that could be attracted and retrained to work in the construction sector.
There is a definite need for an industry-led promotional campaign to highlight career opportunities in the construction sector. There is a growing demand for traditional craft apprentices to meet the projected growth in construction between now and 2020.
There is a clear need for upskilling of the existing construction workforce to maintain competitiveness and comply with new standards. Industry and education providers need to work together to develop solutions to meet this need that are workable for industry and sustainable for education providers. This includes increasing the accessibility of existing further and higher education training programmes.
It is necessary to continue to target job seekers on the live register to seek employment in the construction sector and retrain.
The substantial range of construction related programmes that are currently available in the South East needs to be promoted better to learners, parents and career guidance counsellors in the region.
The following specific actions have been recommended in the report:
- Apprentice sharing for wet trades (brick/block laying and plastering)
An apprentice sharing initiative in association with the Construction Industry Federation and SOLAS was piloted in the southeast with Anthony Neville Construction, Cleary Doyle Construction, Clancy Construction & Mythen Construction. One year on, the consortium has employed four apprentices – CIF and the members deem the pilot to be a success. This scheme should be expanded.
- Site foreman training
Currently there is no recognised qualification of ‘site foreman’. However, the role of site foreman is seen as crucial for most companies. The Institutes of Technology in the region are reviewing this need with the sector.
- Promotion of careers within second-level schools
The construction sector needs to expand its efforts to promote career opportunities to students at second level. In particular earnings and career progression need to be highlighted.
- CPD for existing staff
‘Growing your own’ talent is worthwhile and employers should be supported to do this. Meeting a minimum quota of CPD points is a mandatory requirement to be registered with the Construction Industry Register of Ireland (CIRI). The move to change CIRI from a voluntary basis to a statutory register in the near future is a key priority for Government.
This article is based upon a recent report compiled by Edmond Connolly, manager of the South East Regional Skills Forum. The full report is available at South East Construction Report.http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2017/07/04/construction-sector-southeast-suffers-skills-shortage/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/southeast-construction.pnghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/southeast-construction-300x300.pngCivilCarlow,construction,CPD,Kilkenny,Tipperary,Waterford,Wexford