Recruitment agencies export thousands of skilled builders
By Breda Heffernan
Monday December 07 2009
RECRUITMENT agencies are now exporting thousands of construction workers they brought to Ireland in the good times.
At the height of the property boom recruitment firms were crying out for builders.
But since the collapse in the market, recruitment companies have changed tack. One specialist recruitment firm said that in the first six months of the year alone it had “repatriated” more than 20pc of all workers it had brought to Ireland.
Most of these have returned to their native South Africa to plug the skills gap in that country's construction boom ahead of the 2010 World Cup.
Paul O'Donnell, manager of the Construction and Property division at Hays, said 68,000 jobs had been shed in the industry and that a “significant percentage” of these had now emigrated.
He said this meant that when the economic recovery took place, Ireland could find itself with a “glaring skills shortage” yet again. This is compounded by the fact that well-qualified Irish engineers have also decided to leave.
“It's completely done a loop around and we have got to the stage where we are trying to repatriate people we had placed here,” he explained.
Among them is South African Paul Quinn (53) who is now working as a civil engineer outside Johannesburg. He, his wife and two children moved to Cork three years ago where he worked on a number of high-profile road and rail projects. However, he saw “the writing on the wall” earlier this year and decided to return home.
Mr O'Donnell said that while the housing sector started to decline in mid-2007, the big turning point came around 12 months later when infrastructure projects dried up. This has been followed by an “exodus” of foreign skilled workers as well as their Irish colleagues.
“The majority of focus is on the Middle East, South Africa and Australia,” Mr O'Donnell said.
He added that the “negative aura” around the construction industry had led to a major fall-off in the number of enrollments in engineering and other construction-related courses at third level.
However, Mr O'Donnell said next year could be a turning point in the sector's fortunes.
“From talking to a lot of people in the construction industry, they believe it's at rock-bottom now and whoever is left standing is going to be standing in a few years' time.”
– Breda Heffernan
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