CIF – Still some way to go on apprenticeships

In its 2016 manifesto, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) is calling on the new Government in the Republic of Ireland to create a policy framework that will allow the industry to forge ahead with development and continue its current levels of growth. Key to this growth is skills and employment and a big element of this is apprenticeships. 
There’s no doubt that the industry as a whole needs more apprentices. Some areas are doing better than others; no apprentices in floor and wall tiling for example have been recorded in the past two years while numbers in plumbing have increased from 318 in 2014 to 330 in 2015. On the electrical side, 845 apprentices were recorded in 2014. This rose to 875 in 2015.
“This is certainly a healthy enough increase but there’s scope to do more. We’ve been very busy creating and developing relationships with Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and SOLAS to create more opportunities for people who are interested in taking up an apprenticeship,” says Tom Parlon, Director General at the CIF. 
The landscape in construction has changed, says Tom, and this has had an impact on the numbers being taken on for apprenticeships.
“From the point of view of the CIF, one of the issues on the electrical side is that main contractors are diversifying and becoming more project management-led. These firms are no longer taking on apprentices, they’re employing specialists, so it’s now down to these firms to take on apprentices. We’re going to have to encourage these specialist firms to be more proactive when it comes to apprenticeships, which can be a difficult task when a company mightn’t be certain of their future workload.”
According to Tom, the CIF is working with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, ETBs and SOLAS to come up with ways around this difficulty. 
Initiatives with the likes of JobPath, the service that caters mainly for people who are long-term unemployed (ie, over 12 months), will hopefully push the situation.
“We’re trying to put specific training courses in place that will bridge the gap between the employers who are actively looking for skilled workers and the people on the live register who want a job.”
A pilot scheme involving main contractors and workers is currently in its infancy but, if successful, could prove useful in helping to solve the industry’s skills gap. 
“Apprentices are imperative in the industry. For so many firms, they build a commitment to your company. We have a lot of firms that have taken on apprentices who are now project managers and site managers. These are the guys that are most likely to stay with you.
“The biggest by far percentage of apprentices that have come on board and qualified in Ireland have come through construction, so the sector owes a lot to this group.” 
If current growth figures are anything to go by, apprentices and skilled workers are set to become even more sought after. Based on recent CSO figures, the industry will need at least 45,000 new construction workers if it’s to achieve its sustainable level of 12% of GNP. In 2015, there were 20,000 workers with construction skills on the live register. Getting these people back to work is key, says Tom.
“We also face a challenge in trying to encourage back the 100,000 plus skilled workers that emigrated during the downturn. We’re seeing that happen at the moment but we still have a way to go.”
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