‘A trade is something nobody can take away from you’
Thousands seeking career options attend Ireland Skills Live event at RDS in Dublin
Students at the Ireland Skills Live event at the RDS Simmonscourt in Dublin. Photograph: O’Shea Photography.
“A trade is something nobody can take away from you,” said Simon Watson of Jones Engineering as he scanned the scene at the RDS Simmonscourt on Saturday, seeking to find some apprentice plumbers to join his team.
“We have had students streaming in over the weekend and they have shown great interest in plumbing apprenticeships,” he said, noting that the upturn in construction activity after some difficult times had led to the firm having its busiest year.
“If you have served your time and you have qualified as a tradesperson, you can go off and do other things, even if there is a decline in the economy.”
Thousands of people are visiting the Dublin venue over the weekend for Ireland Skills Live, a three day exhibition promoting careers in the trades to those seeking to find a way in life.
A group of 123 finalists, already engaged in apprenticeships, are there competing in the inaugural Irish National Skills Live finals. The competitors are spread across 25 categories ranging from carpentry to beauty treatments to aircraft maintenance. The winners will represent Ireland at the World Skills competition in Russia in August.
William Lacey, a lecturer in Dublin Institute of Technology’s school of architecture, and a specialist in brickwork, said the trade is “slowly coming back” as he surveyed the bricklaying competition.
“The economy is improving and more bricklayers are needed for sure but it’s a slow process,” he said.
“A lot of builders in the industry lost touch with apprenticeship system when it collapsed during the recession. Even though there’s a big demand for bricklayers in the Dublin area, they’re finding it hard to recruit.”
Mr Lacey said he was pleased to be approached by several students and parents over the weekend inquiring about bricklaying as a career.
“Parents are starting to realise there is more than one way to a career. An apprenticeship is a great way to a career as you can start earning good money in your early 20s and travel the world once you have a trade,” he said.
Among those in attendance was President Michael D Higgins, who said he would like more parents to encourage their children towards apprenticeships and skill-based careers.
The exhibition, he said, “concentrates on most valuable skills, that some of the very best people who are thinking about how one can express one’s creativity in the most useful possible way, can use in any part of the world”.
“At the exhibition I met some of the most dedicated teachers and all of the institutes here are doing far-seeing, future-oriented work and, I don’t mind saying, I would love to see all parents bring their young people here. I believe that this exhibition will in time be as important as the Young Scientist Exhibition.”
Tim Dewhurst, a lecturer at the school of culinary arts at Letterkenny Institute of Technology, who was judging the cookery skills competition, said he was concerned about a shortage of chefs in Ireland.
“When I started lecturing in Letterkenny 21 years ago, there were 300 chef students - now we have around 10 students. We have gone from having six classes to one. There is very little encouragement coming from the Government and Fáilte Ireland have removed the funding for students who need support to study culinary arts,” he said.
“We are 6,000 chefs short in Ireland and kitchens are understaffed, which is leading to chefs burning out, so that is making it unattractive to students. If we had more chefs in the industry and coming through the pipeline then there wouldn’t be the need to work such long hours,” he said.
Mr Dewhurst suggested allowing those who qualify with a culinary arts degree “to not pay tax for the first five years of their working life or until they hit a certain income threshold”.
“It sounds drastic but that is what is going to be needed,” he added.