There have been no floor and wall tiling apprentices registered since 2012, a new report commissioned by the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has found.
The study, carried out by the Technological University in Dublin, says the numbers of new apprenticeship registrations for "wet trades"plummeted during the economic downturn , and has not recovered at the same rate as other parts of the construction sector.
Wet trades include bricklaying, floor and wall tiling, painting and decorating, and plastering. The report says all are critical to the functioning of the construction industry.
“The lack of apprenticeship engagement is a serious concern for wet trades. Respondent companies to this research confirmed that the lack of Government incentives, cost of engaging apprentices and duration of off-the-job phases (for smaller companies in particular) act as barriers in this regard.
“In an employer-led model of apprenticeship training, the lack of company engagement has serious implications for the future supply of qualified workers, and thus the ability to ensure the highest quality and value for money in the delivery of construction projects.”
It says sub-contracting is the predominant mechanism by which wet trades are engaged, and is an essential component of the construction process.
“However, sub-contractor respondents to the research confirmed that they are not engaging apprentices in large numbers, and they too sub-contract wet trades for similar reasons as main contractors. The sub-subcontracting of labour in this manner shifts the risk further from the main contractor, and without adequate monitoring may result in diminished quality of output.”
The report says wet trades are critical in every sector of the construction industry, “and the labour market disequilibrium for these trades is of considerable concern”.
It warns that the impact of this situation is likely to include “wage inflation, cost overruns, and ultimately the inability to achieve value for money across both public and private sector construction projects”.
The CIF says it wants to see “a significant fund” established to incentivise small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to hire apprentices on the basis of creating a sustainable supply of skills into the industry.
“We want to work with Government to increase apprenticeship numbers in these critical trends so the industry has the capacity to deliver the National Development Plan, solve the housing crisis and make the vision in Project Ireland 2040 a reality.”
The report recommends that an independent review of the current apprenticeship model for wet trades should be undertaken on an individual trade basis. It urges that following this review the Government should provide ring-fenced funding to an appropriate skills programme for construction trades to ensure a sustainable labour market throughout economic cycles.
The report suggests that “intervention where minimum threshold levels are not achieved to meet demand should lead to the direct engagement of apprentices by Government departments at least for the duration of the NDP 2018-2027”.
Separately on Sunday, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris and Minister of State for Further Education and Skills Niall Collins announced the launch of a consultation process to help develop a new plan for apprenticeships.
The number of people registering for an apprenticeship has risen from 3,153 in 2015 to 6,177 in 2019. However, just 2.7 per cent self-declared as having a disability, and 4 per cent of the apprentice population was female.