Obsession with third level a factor in construction worker shortage

Industry body’s figures show 89 per cent of companies struggling to hire staff they need

It’s almost beyond ironic that the original home of the navvy is so short of building workers that the problem is threatening the construction of badly needed homes and infrastructure.

While in the past, lack of opportunity forced roofers to leave Claremorris for Chicago and tilers to flee Ballinskelligs for Manhattan, they could now stay at home and have their pick of jobs, because builders here are struggling to find workers at every grade, from general operative to project manager.

The Construction Industry Federation on Friday released figures showing that 89 per cent of companies are struggling to hire staff they need, while three-quarters say the labour shortage could hinder the timely completion of homes and infrastructure.

Builders generally acknowledge that the industry’s boom and bust cycle here is partly to blame. When it ground to a halt just over a decade ago, school leavers ruled it out as an option, with predictable results 10 years later.


But there are other factors at play. A cultural obsession with third level means that current school leavers are undersold the virtues of alternatives, including apprenticeships of all kinds, not just those in construction.

A trade

Back in the 1980s, despite there being few jobs in construction, parents still prayed their children would get a trade, because such skills, needed all over the world, promised real careers and opportunities. Some of those roofers made fortunes in Chicago and the tilers wound up with construction empires in Manhattan.

Another piece of news this week showed high college drop-out rates in the Republic. Amidst the predictable hand-wringing, almost nobody suggested that students may be leaving because they are in the wrong place anyway. Some of those ditching third level could well be happier and better suited by an apprenticeship, where they get paid to learn something useful and, come right down to it, almost always well rewarded.