The figures don’t lie: there was a 20 per cent rise last year in the number of college applicants opting for construction-related courses along with a 6 per cent increase in those wanting to study architecture.
After years when the demand for skills in these areas was depressingly low, it seems that the construction industry is struggling to fill key roles. An analysis by economic consultants DKM of future construction skills needs for the next three years, projects that the industry will will require 110,000 extra people by 2020.
Granted, most of these roles are in the trades, such as bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, etc but architects, quantity surveyors, engineers, safety officers and project managers are also badly needed.
The full breakdown of CAO applications figures for 2017, which are usually released in July, seem likely to show further increases for these sectors given all the positive news about jobs emanating from them. Certainly the provisional figures suggest this, too.
"We expect that interest in construction-related courses will rise once again this year by a significant amount, but this is difficult to predict," said Dermot Carey, director of safety and training at the Construction Industry Federation (CIF).
He adds that a bigger campaign involving the Government and other industry stakeholders is still needed to increase awareness of “varied and highly sought after careers available within construction”. But the CIF is also hoping for dividends in the form of increased investment in major infrastructure projects, which in turn could help attract more FDI (foreign direct investment).
James Longergan, director of education at the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, says that quantity and building surveyors continue to remain in short supply. During the lean years, many surveyors went to work overseas because their qualification, much like architecture, is a highly transferable one.
But the high demand for their skills here and now reflected in the strength of the salaries they can command. A salary survey by the SCSI last year showed the national average salary for surveyors is €71,000.
The rising popularity of home improvements and energy-efficiency retrofits, helped by the Home Renovation Incentive (HRI) scheme, is another reason for longer-term optimism, with the repair, maintenance and improvement (RMI) sector now said to be accounting for €1 of every €3 spent in the wider construction industry.
“The RMI sector is hugely important to the Irish construction industry; it takes activity out of the black market, it helps Ireland achieve climate change targets by making buildings more energy efficient and it is helping to upgrade much of the office and residential infrastructure we have around Ireland that is now in experiencing great demand,” said Mr Carey.
Some of this increased activity in RMI is reportedly down to the "Dermot Bannon" effect, with the Bank of Ireland claiming recently that the popularity of RTÉ's home improvement programme, Room to Improve is partly to blame for a 38 per cent rise in home improvement loan applications to the bank during the first quarter of this year.
Lonergan also credits Room To Improve for helping to raise the profile of surveyors, particularly when they engage with parents and schools. "When they ask what is a quantity surveyor, you can say 'Room to Improve' or 'Patricia Power' and the penny drops and it's 'Ah right, okay.'"
However, the sector is arguably the most exposed to economic risk or boom and bust cycles, and while that doesn’t seem to be putting many people off, industry advocates insist many lessons have been learnt from the last recession.
Mr Carey adds there are threats to other industries perceived as safer. “Automation is disrupting all industries, artificial intelligence might in time replace segments of the professional services, accountancy and finance industries, and the internet of things will facilitate robotics in replacing segments of the workforce. However, construction is a global skill and our industry is offering more career paths to students from all socio-economic groups and offer real opportunities.”
Where to study
Architecture is well catered for by UCD, DIT, UCC/CIT, WIT and UL, while a range of surveying and construction courses are available at DIT, as well as at WIT, GMIT, Dundalk IT and Limerick IT.
Given the current popularity of courses linked to the economic recovery, careers experts say you can expect CAO points increases in architecture, construction and engineering this year.
There were 76,213 submissions to CAO this year – matching last year’s record numbers – but this is likely to rise to closer to 80,000 when late applicants are included.
Points have crept up in most cases between 2015 and last year for architecture and surveying courses. The DIT programme required 605 last year (+15), while the UCD course needed 510 (+20). The joint UCC/CIT architecture programme asks 445 (+5), UL 420 (+30) and WIT 305 (-5).
The points for DIT’s quantity surveying course rose to 350 (+20) last year compared to 2015, while architectural technology jumped to 365 (+30). WIT needed 290 (-5) for its surveying programmes, while Limerick IT asked for 310 (+60), and both Dundalk IT and GMIT need 240 (+30).
For architectural technology, DIT continues to be the toughest at 365, while CIT and WIT both ask 300, with Carlow looking for 270 and GMIT 265.
The 2016 salary survey by Sigmar Recruitment shows an architect with up to two years' experience in the Dublin area can expect to start on €30,000 rising to up to €55,000 or more with five years' experience.
A civil engineer with one to two years’ experience can expect a salary of around €30,000, rising to up to €50,000 or more after five years’ experience has been clocked up. A junior quantity surveyor is looking at a salary in the region of €40,000 and that will rise to €60,000 plus with more than five years’ experience