Just 37 apprentices are working in the State's local authorities, Siptu has said, warning that the Government's Housing For All plan could fail because of a shortage of workers.
"The numbers do not seem to add up," said Siptu official Adrian Kane, who added local authorities have nearly 20 per cent fewer staff than they did before 2008.
Major increases in the construction of social housing cannot “be delivered without a serious and targeted recruitment campaign to attract skilled tradespeople and apprentices into local authorities without delay”, he said.
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris accepted that there are significant staff shortages as the State faces the need to build more houses and better insulate hundreds of thousands of existing homes.
“We are effectively pulling from the same pool of people unless something changes,” said the Minister, adding that his department is tasked with reskilling or upskilling 27,000 people over the next 10 years.
“We have the courses in third level – from apprenticeships to higher education. We are working with industry across Government to ensure trade is an attractive place for people to work.”
“We have made important changes. We now have an incentive scheme for employers to hire apprentices. We have a national apprentice office being established.
“We are overhauling the information that school leavers see so that training and trades become more visible options. But we have much more to do and my department is determined to address this, in partnership with industry” he said.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu)said a labour shortage exists, though apprenticeship and upskilling could go a significant way to addressing the gaps that exist.
However, Ictu said if the Government considered that foreign labour is needed then it should first attract workers from elsewhere in the European Union, or Iceland, Norway or Liechtenstein.
Frank Curran, chief executive of Wicklow County Council, said it was "hugely important" to encourage people into apprenticeships: "It needs to be sold and you need to win the hearts and minds of secondary school students.
“There’re jobs there which are quite lucrative. There’s going to be money. There’s going to be security, at least for the next 10 years,” he told The Irish Times.
“There’s energy retrofitting coming down the track. There are things like solar energy, wind, that require very specific skills and would provide very good job opportunities for people.”
However, the Construction Industry Federation believed the industry can grow to meet the demand, pointing out that it is increasingly becoming technologically driven.
This will make the industry more attractive to young people and women of all ages and improve productivity and enable it to build sustainably, more efficiently and cost effectively.