“We should be building bridges not walls for the construction diaspora to return because the industry needs their skills and expertise to deliver housing and infrastructure”
The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has identified a number of barriers deterring Irish emigrants with construction expertise from returning home. Since 2016, the CIF has highlighted a potential shortage of over 100,000 construction workers up to 2020. The CIF is calling on Government and State Agencies such as Solas to put in place recognition of qualifications gained by those of the Diaspora upon their return to Ireland.
Dermot Carey Director, Safety and Training, CIF said: “The Construction Industry Federation has been highlighting the difficulties faced by our returning workers as far back as 2012. Our members are reporting huge difficulties in attracting and onboarding returning emigrants into their companies because the qualifications they have gained overseas are not recognised by Irish authorities. Over 100,000 construction workers emigrated during the recession to countries such as Australia, Canada, the US, New Zealand and Dubai. Qualifications gained in these jurisdictions over the last decade are not recognised here in Ireland. We are urgently calling on the Government to address this anomaly.
Hundreds of skilled workers, with an array of construction licences, certificates and expertise, come home to find that these qualifications are not recognised. So, before they can secure employment, they must do very similar courses here, which is an additional cost at a time when they may already be under pressure. We need a fast-track and clear route for returnees, otherwise they simply will not return here. At a time, when wages in the industry are increasing, making a return to Ireland more attractive to the diaspora, and demand for skilled construction workers is very strong as we struggle with a housing crisis, Government inaction in this area is problematic.
The CIF has repeatedly flagged the urgency for attracting new employees into the industry as well as encouraging those who may have left, to return to working in the Irish industry. In 2016, EY/DKM consultants and SOLAS predicted that the industry would need 112,000 additional employees up to 2020 to meet the demands of Government strategies in housing and infrastructure. Since then the ESRI’s estimate of the level of housing output required has increased by 30 per cent to 35,000 new houses per year. The recent announcement of the National Planning Framework and National Development Plan is a potential game-changer for the Irish economy and society. The construction industry will be front and centre in its delivery. However, construction companies face significant challenges in translating this into the much-needed housing, world-class infrastructure and the sorts of specialist buildings that underpin Ireland’s attractiveness for FDI.
A failure to attract people into the industry, both onsite and offsite, will see labour costs increase and eat away at the available capital for investment in vital infrastructure. We see the diaspora as a rich source of skilled labour that we need to tap into over the coming years to help us meet Ireland’s demand for construction activity. Over 50,000 jobs have been created in the construction industry since the lowest point of the recession in 2013. This growth in construction jobs over the last five years is a testament to the strong pipeline of work in Ireland over the next 15-20 years.
A recent survey conducted by Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) on behalf of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) found that 86% of construction companies are experiencing issues as a result of an inadequate supply of qualified tradespeople and this figure increases to 94% of large respondent firms. However, an Indecon Economic Report on Addressing Challenges Faced by Returning Irish Emigrants has shown that a number of barriers exist for those coming home to work here, particularly in construction. Many of those who have returned to Ireland from Canada, Australia and New Zealand are employed in the construction sector. Barriers to employment on return include the recognition of foreign qualifications and issues with obtaining a driving licence or motor insurance, which particularly effect those working in construction who may be required to drive for work.
The Indecon report states: “In considering ways to improve transferability of qualification and training work should be focused in key emigrant employment sectors as well as sectors where issues with qualification recognition are raised regularly, e.g. nursing, policing, construction and teaching. There is therefore a need for new processes to facilitate recognition of overseas professional qualifications or training. For example, to deem overseas training licences in sectors such as construction as equivalent to certain Irish standards. Such recognition of overseas qualification or training could assist returning emigrants and should be facilitated where appropriate.”
Dermot Carey, Director Safety and Training, CIF added: “The construction industry has undergone a massive adjustment over the last number of years and emerged a much more sustainable and stable place in which to work. We would like to see that any Irish person currently living abroad with construction skills who wishes to return home, is facilitated to do so and that this process is as easy and efficient as possible for them and their families. We should be building bridges not walls for the construction diaspora to return; the industry needs their skills and expertise to deliver housing and infrastructure.”