Ireland's climate targets threatened by critical skills shortage in sector

Ireland's climate targets threatened by critical skills shortage in sector

Research, led by Technological University of the Shannon, has identified significant skills and labour shortages in the built environment sector. The study highlights how this challenges Ireland in reaching its climate targets and points out possible solutions.

As part of the EU-LIFE funded Build Up Skills Ireland 2030 initiative significant skills and labour shortages have been identified in the build environment sector, and highlights how 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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Irish Green Building Council

The Irish Green Building Council, (IGBC) a non-profit organisation was launched in 2011 with organisations and businesses from the entire value chain.