Registrar, Engineers Ireland
While Ireland faces engineering skills shortages in all areas, many of these shortages are reflected throughout the world – with some sectors still affected by the 2008 global recession.
The National Skills Bulletin 2021 by SOLAS highlighted that professional occupations made up approximately 40% of all vacancy advertisements in 2020. Approximately two thirds of professional vacancy adverts are for ICT or engineering roles.
Gaps in construction industry
During the global recession the construction industry was one of the hardest-hit sectors and this impact can still be witnessed today in relation to worker shortages. This is clearly evident in CSO reports which highlight that there are currently 127,300 construction workers in Ireland, still well below the peak of 236,000 workers in 2007.
As detailed in Engineers Ireland’s State of Ireland 2021 report, Infrastructure and a Digital Future, Engineers Ireland recommended that a nationalised programme, which would provide consistency and job security, would be an optimal solution to encourage more workers to join the construction sector.
This consistency of demand, provided by the Government, has allowed workers to feel confident to enter the sector, more so than when public projects start and stop.
Confidence through consistent demand
This solution has worked well in the United Kingdom, with the Government setting the agenda for national projects, thus providing job security for those in the construction sector.
For example, when Heathrow Airport underwent a major expansion with the construction of Terminal 5, over 60,000 workers were involved in the project. When that project finished, the majority of those workers were moved on to build London’s Olympic Village. After that project was completed, the highly skilled workers went on to the Crossrail project, which aims to provide a high-frequency suburban passenger service crossing the capital from west to east. It is expected to finish in the first half of 2022. This consistency of demand, provided by the Government, has allowed workers to feel confident to enter the sector, more so than when public projects start and stop.
Role of alternative education routes
Apprenticeships and other non-traditional third level education routes also provide opportunities for new workers to enter the job market quickly. The National Framework Qualifications incorporates these pathways into its system, providing a clear path for apprentices.
A report by Cedefop, the independent EU agency for developing skills policy, found that there were over 17,800 apprentices in Ireland as of 2019. However, more can be done to encourage take up and interest in apprenticeships and the possibilities that they can provide.