Research Reveals Critical Skills Shortages Threatening Ireland’s Climate Targets

The research, led by Technological University of the Shannon, found the construction industry will require the recruitment of up to 120,000 additional skilled construction workers and the re-skilling of 164,000 construction workers by 2030 to deliver on Ireland’s housing and climate targets.

It also shows that despite a tenfold rise in construction and engineering courses over the last two years, enrolment in these courses remains relatively low and that the number of students enrolling in some apprenticeships has decreased. Of those who choose apprenticeships, over 60% are electricians, showing an imbalance in critical trades, with a marked shortage of plumbers and carpenters. 

In addition to actions to attract more people into the industry and to incentivise upskilling, the report stresses the importance of better using our existing building stock, high-quality large-scale renovations, and innovative methods of construction as key strategies to deliver much needed homes without over stretching Ireland’s carbon budget. The latter would ensure a more effective use of scarce labour, financial and carbon resources. 

Dermot Carey, Director of Safety & Training at Construction Industry Federation (CIF) said: “Our sector is experiencing significant labour and skill challenges despite increases in construction courses in recent years. Addressing this challenge will require more diversity in the industry, and a cultural shift so that more people see apprenticeships and traineeships as a viable and rewarding option. The construction sector has a vast array of opportunities to offer but we need more young people to consider it as a career choice to ensure the industry can continue to evolve and thrive to secure a future pipeline of talent”.

Sinéad Hughes, Programme Manager at the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC) commented: “While most of our focus to date has been on improving energy efficiency, a more holistic approach is required to tackle the climate and housing crises. We need to better use our existing stock and make sure that new builds are not only highly energy efficient but are also designed and built to reduce embodied carbon emissions. This requires upskilling the industry in topics such as whole life cycle measurement and circularity”.

Pádraig Boland, FET Strategic Manager with Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board (LOETB) commented: “The Irish Further Education and Training (FET) Sector is now well placed to respond to the future skills needs of the construction sector. SOLAS and the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) have developed strategically located Centres of Excellence currently focussed on Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) and retrofit and are partnering with industry and Higher Education in developing programmes that will enable the sector, and its workforce, pivot to Modern Methods of Construction – leading to a greener, leaner built environment.”

Seamus Hoyne, Dean of Flexible and Work Based Learning at Technological University of the Shannon added: What the research shows is that we need greater collaboration and more multidisciplinary approaches at all levels. In particular, industry and education must work together to improve construction processes and address climate change. We also need clear pathways between Further and Higher Education to facilitate career progression. These are the issues we are tackling through this initiative, and we invite all key stakeholders to get involved”.

The report was developed by Technological University of the Shannon (TUS), the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC), Laois and Offaly Education Training Board (LOETB) and Construction Industry Federation (CIF) through academic research and extensive industry engagement as part of the Build Up Skills Ireland (BUSI2030) project. These interim findings will inform the development of a National Upskilling Roadmap for sustainability in the built environment. A first draft of the roadmap will be ready by December 2023 for public consultation.

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About Build Up Skills Ireland (BUSI2030)

BUSI2030 is a national project funded by the European Commission to analyse the current and future skill gaps in sustainable construction and create a roadmap to ensuring these skills needs are met so that Ireland can achieve its national objectives regarding housing, climate action, retrofitting and the decarbonisation of our built environment. The BUSI2030 project works closely with higher and further education institutes, policymakers, and other key stakeholders in education as well as the professional bodies and organisations in the construction industry.

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About Technological University of the Shannon (TUS)

The Technological University of the Shannon is Ireland’s first cross-regional university and is home to more than 14,000 students across six campuses in Athlone, Limerick, Thurles, Clonmel, and Ennis. The TUS Development Unit which leads BUSI2030, is dedicated to implementing a vision of supporting individuals, companies and industries in the Mid-West to achieve social, economic and environmental changes through applying expertise in a collaborative manner.

About the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC)
The IGBC is Ireland’s leading authority on green building best practices with a network of over 370 green building organisations spanning the entire built environment industry. The IGBC is affiliated with the World Green Building Council. This is a network of over 80 national Green Building Councils worldwide with a total membership of over 27,000 of the most progressive international organisations and businesses making it the largest organisation globally influencing the sustainable building market.

About Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board (LOETB)

LOETB is one of the main employers in the midlands with 1,000 staff providing education for over 4,000 students at post-primary level and over 11,000 beneficiaries on FET programmes and services. LOETB manages nine post primary schools and twelve multi-programme FET Centres and is also joint patron of five Community Schools located in Mountmellick, Ballinakill, Mountrath, Birr, and Ferbane under the Education & Training Board Act 2013.

About Construction Industry Federation (CIF)

The CIF is the Irish construction industry’s representative body. It provides a broad range of services that assist members in navigating the political, business, economic and regulatory environment. These services cross the full business spectrum and include Recruitment and Training, Legal and Industrial Relations Consultation and Advice, Health & Safety, Marketing and Industrial intelligence Reports, Engagement with Government, Statutory and other industry bodies, and regular updates on all issues affecting the construction industry.

Disclaimer: This initiative is called Build Up Skills Ireland 2030 (BUSI2030) and is co-funded by the European Union (Project 101075961 — LIFE21-CET-BUILDSKILLS-BUSI2030). Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or CINEA. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

© Civil & Construction 2023