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Apprenticeship is no longer the ‘secondary career option’ for young people in Ireland

There is a growing consensus across the country, and in particular within the further education sector, of the need to direct a greater number of young people towards apprenticeship training as Ireland seeks to invest heavily in housing and infrastructure construction.

Myriad companies within the construction sector are now committed to supporting young employees through their apprenticeship years and in most cases, this comes with the guarantee of a paid job at the end of the training process.

Apprenticeship courses also bring with them the prospect of qualified young people from Ireland travelling the world with their highly qualified skills’ base. Put simply, apprenticeship is now regarded as a proven and an effective way to build the pipeline of talent within industries. This is particularly so where construction is concerned.

In essence, apprenticeships are an alternative to full-time college or university courses. These programmes alternate phases of on-the-job and off-the-job training and development. They also provide an opportunity to get a recognised qualification while at the same time gaining practical experience relevant to the career path selected.

Ireland’s construction industry has rebounded in recent years, hiring at a rate of 1,000 additional employees a month since 2013. There is little to suggest a slowdown and the vision of Ireland 2040 indicates a greater demand for skilled construction labour will be required to deliver future infrastructure.

With the Irish government committed to delivering 47,000 social housing units up to 2021, and with an anticipated population growth of one million people over the next 20 years, stakeholders within the construction sector are saying that close to 120,000 construction workers are now required in the sector.

A significant proportion of these will be in the form of apprenticeships, reflecting the myriad trades and skill sets required by building companies.

However, recent trends show that construction industry apprenticeship numbers in some trades have failed to record significant improvements over recent years. In fact, numbers have declined in some important subsectors, such as the wet-trades: bricklaying, plastering, painting and decorating and tiling.

Last year TU Dublin published its Trades and Apprenticeships Skills Survey, which highlighted a shortage of apprentices in Irish construction and proposed recommendations on how the apprentice model can be modified to make it more accessible for employers.

The publication makes it clear that significant investment in the education, training and apprenticeship system is required if the capacity of the construction industry is to be expanded in order to deliver new infrastructure and resolve Ireland’s housing crisis.

It also confirms that a reliance on importing mobile labour to meet demand is not sustainable. However, with investment and targeted measures, the Government can deliver the necessary construction resources whilst enabling industry to providing thousands of quality careers to people.

The report specifically recommends that construction companies taking on apprentices in critical areas should have a zero-rate employers’ PRSI contributions. It also calls for the introduction of a trainee grant for a limited time to support SME companies taking on apprentices.

Further recommendations emanating from the TU Ireland survey include the need for a ‘visiting assessor’ scheme. This would entail an assessor, responsible for a region, visiting the employer to conduct assessment when required.

This further endorses a commitment to standards and quality assurance as this individual would be more likely to apply a standard across a range of companies rather than individual assessment practices.

The report also highlights the need for a “shared training” initiative. This would be supported and promoted as a measure to stimulate engagement in training by construction firms, in particular SMEs.