Construction jobs gap worsened by ‘reluctance to get out of bed for 7am’

Employer seeking to fill 35 roles ‘got about two applications’

A shortage of apprentices in the construction sector is in part due to a reluctance among younger people to “get out of bed for seven o’clock in the morning”, a manager in the engineering sector has said.

Conor Gray, apprentice development manager at engineering contractor Mercury, said people were not applying to become electricians, plumbers and pipefitters at a time when they are sorely needed.

“The hours that we work, a lot of our projects will start at seven in the morning. I’d be perfectly honest, there’s an awful lot of young people that don’t like getting out of the bed for seven o’clock in the morning and that’s just a fact,” he told The Irish Times. “About a month ago we put out an advertisement across all the social media platforms and everywhere else looking for 35 people and we got about two applications.”

Mr Gray was speaking at an apprenticeship expo held in Tallaght stadium, west Dublin to mark the start of Construction Work and Skills week.

There was a skills shortage across the construction industry but particularly facing homebuilders, he said. “There’s an awful lot of traffic coming down from Northern Ireland, tradespeople coming down from the North that are probably back filling the shortage that we have down here,” he said.

Tom Parlon, head of the Construction Industry Federation, said he would be “slow to tar young people as lazy or unmotivated” and added other sectors such as hospitality were facing big challenges finding workers.

The construction sector had to find a way to make younger generations see the appeal of a career in the sector, he said. “It’s not all mud and boots, it’s increasingly more high-tech now.”

Padraig Gavigan, contracts director for construction company JJ Rhatigan, said addressing the skills shortage was "one cog in the wheel" to solve the housing crisis.

“There’s a general skills shortage across the whole industry at all levels, from traders through to engineers, management, it’s widespread,” he said.

The last 10 years had seen young people opting to go to college rather than pursuing apprenticeships, which had left a “gap in the market,” he said.

Gary Mallon of Newry-based bricklayers Malmac Construction said the shortage of workers had started to have a major impact in the last two years.

A lack of tradespeople was “for sure” holding up projects and smaller construction companies in particular were “really struggling to get manpower,” he said.

The option of learning a trade did not seem to be on most young people’s radar, he said. “When I was in the training centre or looking (for) a trade, you’d an uncle or somebody in it and there just doesn’t seem to be those people in their ears trying to tell them to get into it anymore,” he said.

Katherine Hannon, an apprentice carpenter working for Dublin City Council, is one woman bucking that trend. After studying Maths and working in a bank at 35 she decided to change career and became an apprentice with the local authority. She had been apprehensive about joining a heavily male dominated field but said she found "nobody treats you any different".

Initially the only female apprentice with the council she is now one of five. “When we’re out at a job and we’re out fitting a window, someone will shout up at us ‘Oh, you’re a woman doing that’ and we’d be like: Yeah we’re allowed work now,” she said.