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Back to Education Scheme for young Construction Workers Needed

4 November, 2008


Speaking during this evening Dáil on unemployment and training Sinn Féin Economic Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD has this evening called on government to urgently introduce a specific back to education scheme for construction sector workers under the age of 25 without Leaving Certificates.

The Louth TD said:

"Sinn Féin has constantly highlighted the need for training in the last two years as it became apparent that the economy was contracting and job losses were on the rise. In fact, even before the current economic crisis, we had pointed out that the construction industry in particular was heading for a crash and that the state risked massive unemployment unless it started training workers in that sector in alternative industry.

Unfortunately, none of these calls were heeded and we see the consequences now.

"The Small to Medium business sector which employs the majority of Irish people is going to the wall in the current economic crisis and instead of introducing measures to help the Budget in fact undermines it. The increase in VAT will have a serious impact on consumption and industry.

"Manufacturing and the SME sector are feeling the squeeze, but construction is where we are hemorrhaging jobs. Since the Fianna Fáil-led government first came to power in 1997, employee numbers in the industry soared from less than 100,000 in 1994 to 260,000 in 2007. At its peak, construction accounted for almost one quarter of all economic activity. The growth of this unsustainable sector was pushed by Government policy of property tax reliefs and support for their developer friends. The indirect taxation that resulted for the Exchequer was an added bonus and acted as a deterrant to the Government to do anything to rein in the sector. As a result of its growth, thousands of young men headed onto sites and into apprenticeships. Many left school early and many left other industries like farming, to the detriment of those sectors.

"It is estimated that a minimum of 30,000 construction workers have lost their jobs so far in 2008. This figure is CSO projections based on live register data. We don't have exact figures on how many construction workers have emigrated. In offering training to those leaving this sector, or at risk of losing their jobs, it is imperative that the state takes an intelligent approach. We shouldn't have training for training's sake - we must train these individuals in skills that we need.

"Leaving aside the issue of financial irregularities in our largest training agency - something which of course must be dealt with in full - my main concern regarding FÁS is the type of training it is providing for those out of work. There doesn't seem to be any joined-up thinking or plan behind the courses FÁS offers. For example, two of the courses launched by FÁS in recent times, or in development, include domestic heat pump installation and floor covering installer - both potentially useless courses given the down-turn in the related construction sector.

"It is essential that the state introduces a specific back to education scheme for construction sector workers under the age of 25 without Leaving Certificates. The Taoiseach's Department estimates that under 25s represent 50.3% of the total construction unemployment figure in 2007 & 2008 and that a large majority do not have a Leaving Certificate. It is also essential that training and upskilling courses for alternative industries to construction are provided.

"The number of CE schemes in particular to be increased, and for the schemes to be reviewed in terms of the training they provide and the merit they bring to society. It is also important that training course is provided with a view to our underperforming indigenous export market. Five years ago, 'Ahead of the Curve' identified problems with the sales skills of those working in the export sector. They noted a scarcity of sales personnel with the right mix of industry background and technical knowledge; that Irish market graduates are perceived by the industry to lack practical business skills; and that only 25% of sales personnel in Irish SMEs have formal qualifications in marketing sales. This skills deficit must be tackled.

"The public finances simply are not there to sustain huge numbers in training for any length of time and for our economy to turn around, we need to be developing jobs very quickly to offer people an alternative when they become unemployed." ENDS

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