Skills shortages hindering builders

Plant hire contractors say Government ignoring pleas for aid with training

Plant hire contractors are still seeking a meeting with Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Skills shortages continue to hamper the Republic’s building industry, leading construction bodies warned on Wednesday.

The Irish Plant Contractors’ Association (IPCA), whose members clear sites before building work can begin, calculated that there were up to 2,500 vacancies across its industry.

Meanwhile, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), warned in a quarterly update that more than three out of four building businesses cited labour shortage as their biggest concern.

Brian Coogan, IPCA director, accused the Government of ignoring its pleas for aid in establishing formal training for new recruits, which he argued was contributing to the labour squeeze with which members were grappling.

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Plant contractors operate excavators and other heavy vehicles needed to prepare sites. According to Mr Coogan, insurers have warned the industry that hiring people with no formal training to operate these machines increases risks.

“We have a lack of skilled machine operators,” said Mr Coogan. “The Government has announced a construction recruitment plan to encourage people to work in construction, but it does not address a core problem: we have a lack of skilled machine operators.

“All construction starts with earth-moving equipment. You need to clear the ground, whatever is going up,” he pointed out.

Mr Coogan said the association was seeking a meeting with Minister for Higher and Further Education Simon Harris to get Government backing in tackling the problem.

The Minister had agreed to meet the group earlier this year, but cancelled. Mr Coogan said the department was ignoring efforts to reschedule.

He pointed out that machine operators earned up to €1,000 a week, “more than a nurse or a guard or a teacher” but the industry still faced barriers in attracting new recruits.

The CIF said that the labour shortage topped the list of concerns for 77 per cent of building businesses that took part in its Quarter 2 Economic Outlook Survey.

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Hubert Fitzpatrick, the federation’s director general, said access to skilled workers remained a concern in a competitive employment market for construction and other industries.

“Government and industry are working together to increase pathways into construction and to attract more workers from Ireland and overseas,” he added.

One-third of companies acknowledged that turnover grew during the three months to the end of June this year, while a similar number expected it to increase through the current quarter, according to the CIF survey.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas