GMIT conference hears of skills shortage in the construction sector

There was some good news for students and recent graduates of construction and built environment courses attending a construction conference in GMIT last week with a number of speakers highlighting the existing demand for highly-skilled professionals and the opportunities for them in Ireland and abroad because of the current skills shortage in the construction industry.

Another common theme was the call for a long-term national strategy for delivery of infrastructure in Ireland and the requirement for greater collaboration between professionals on projects.

The sixth Annual International Construction Management Day Conference, hosted by the GMIT Department of Building & Civil Engineering, had the highest number of delegates in attendance since the inaugural conference in 2011. Delegates heard from fifteen expert speakers from Ireland and the UK who spoke on a variety of issues such as the housing crisis in Ireland, opportunities and obstacles within the industry and the need for strategic planning to deliver critical infrastructure to retain Ireland’s competiveness in a global economy.

In his welcoming address, Dr Fergal Barry confirmed there is a significant increase in demand for construction related courses in GMIT which is reflected in increased student numbers and CAO points for many courses. He also highlighted the importance of the professional accreditation with professional bodies for the various courses in GMIT as a means of providing professional pathways for GMIT graduates and valuable links between industry and the Institute.

The conference had a particular focus on the housing crisis: Ned Brennan, CEO, Respond! Housing Association, said there are currently up to 140,000 families in housing need. He outlined key issues that need to be looked at such as a lack of private finance, a Government guarantee for housing associations’ funding and the release of land banks. He also proposed the reinstatement of the old ‘Part V’ clause obliging house builders to set aside up to 20% of all units for social or affordable housing. Mr. Brennan described the current target of 35,000 houses over six years in the Housing Strategy 2020 as “unrealistic and unachievable”.

Hubert Fitzpatrick, Director of Housing, Planning and Development at the Construction Industry Federation (CIF ), insisted that even the current 10% Part V requirement was too high and was a significant disincentive to builders. He suggested models such as the Help to Buy initiative in the UK.

Marian Finnegan, chief economist at Sherry FitzGerald Group, noted that there is a growing shortage of accommodation in the country with the problem being particularly acute in the larger urban centres. She said that areas with lowest unemployment were those with the highest demand for property. She criticised the Central Bank 20% Loan to Value requirement rules on mortgage lending, saying that that intervention had been to the detriment of the market.

Noel Conroy, Head of Irish Operations for the MJ Conroy Group and a graduate of GMIT, gave a personal perspective on the ethos of the MJ Conroy group and how it concentrates on developing long-term relationships with clients such as Allergan and Boston Scientific. The MJ Conroy group which was founded by Noel’s grandfather in 1932, specialises in high-end construction in the commercial, industrial and pharmaceutical sectors. In addition, the Group has diversified into the development of a property portfolio in both Ireland and Europe and also expanded into the international agricultural industry.

A review of the construction industry in Ireland and its future prospects was presented by John O’Regan, Director of Aecom group in Ireland. He noted that although it was expected that there would be 15% growth in construction output in 2016, it was focused on particular sectors of the industry and was concentrated in the greater Dublin region. Looking ahead he identified capacity issues, shortage of skilled workers and obtaining funding as the key challenges facing the industry.

A case study on a collaborative industry-academic research project was presented to the delegates by Dr. Mark Kelly, Senior Researcher in GMIT. The project was focused on the Human Biology Building which is currently under construction in Galway and the implementation of resource efficiency strategies to reduce energy use, construction waste, water use and carbon emissions for the construction project. Paul Mannion, who is Associate Architect with Scott Tallon Walker and Brian Holmes Project Manager with BAM contractors gave presentations on the project from the architects and contractors perspective. Jan Gottsche, a PhD candidate in GMIT, outlined a number of practical examples of strategies which were implemented on this project and resulted in significant cost savings.

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