With a number of positive indicators for Irish construction in 2019, but also some major issues to be addressed, CIF directors are positive but cautious about industry prospects in the year ahead.
Looking at the likely context in the coming next year, growth of 6% is forecasted coming on the back of growth of 11% in 2018. All welcome, but it will come with its own issues and problems that need to be managed.
From a safety perspective, as the industry expands and the numbers working in the sector grow, the real danger is that accident rates will increase. This is a statistical fact – the more hours that are worked and the more exposure to hazardous situations, the more likely there will be an increase in accidents. This is compounded by an increase in new personnel into the sector.
It is often quoted that the first seven days on site are the most hazardous for a newcomer to the industry. The sector has bucked this trend for the last couple of years with accident rates and fatalities reducing even though the work levels have been increasing.
It is expected that to meet the short-term need for workers, more migrant labour will join the workforce. With this comes the concern that understanding of safety cultures and methods of operation will be strained and we need to be cognisant of this.
Other issues that will come to the fore in 2019 will include mental health and wellbeing. We are aware that mental health concerns are high in the construction sector and the challenge to CIF and other stakeholders will be how to address this. Also, as was highlighted at the recent CIF Safety and Health Summit in Croke Park, the misuse of intoxicants and how we can manage this is high on the agenda.
The major issue for the sector is, and continues to be, better management of work at height – three of the five fatalities in 2018 were falls – how can we stop this?
Looking at training, the Bearing Point Report into the delivery of Safe Pass and Construction Skills Certification Scheme was high on the agenda in 2018. A key concern was the lack of investment available to these schemes and the impact on a growing construction sector. Recent discussions with SOLAS indicates that a major investment project is about to commence to address shortfalls. This is welcomed, and 2019 will be crucial to the delivery of the sector’s needs.
Brexit will challenge the industry in 2019. For instance, what happens about personnel from Northern Ireland and Great Britain travelling to work in Ireland? Will their training be recognised? What about those going the other way? Will Irish qualifications be recognised in Great Britain?
From a manpower perspective, 2019 will be a challenge. As the industry continues to grow, we need more personnel to deliver on the NDP and other major projects. The sector has been taking on new workers at a rate of 1,000 per month since 2013. The challenge will be to maintain momentum and source new personnel. Luckily, we are not commencing from a standing start. CIF has been investing time and effort to try to address this issue via four key routes. The Live Register, at 5%, does not present much hope. Second-level schools, the diaspora and widening the work permit eligibility criteria are the three other areas of opportunity.
The diaspora and work permits are a short-term solution. The long-term solution is to work with young people seeking a career and attract them to the construction sector. This will take a massive effort from all in the sector as there is much competition for emerging talent.