In the realm of Limerick’s economy, the dearth of proficient tradespeople is raising concerns about potential impediments to growth, as outlined in the most recent SME Monitor by Banking and Payments Federation Ireland. This issue is particularly affecting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including local auctioneers specializing in Limerick property.

Within the construction sector, firms are grappling with the formidable challenge of recruiting suitably trained and skilled personnel. A recently published report by Chambers Ireland reveals that over 95% of micro-businesses in Ireland are contending with skill shortages. Furthermore, a Eurobarometer survey from September 2023 indicates that 61% of SMEs in Ireland are grappling with difficulties in recruiting machine operators, craftspersons, and skilled trades workers.

Ali Ugur, Chief Economist at Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, observes, “The Irish economy is performing very well, we have reached our peak level of employment, but what seems to be emerging is that across many SMEs, they are finding it difficult to hire certain skills, particularly machine operators, and that is quite important for the construction sector.” SMEs play a vital role in the Limerick economy, constituting approximately 60% of all employment. In the construction sector, which is of particular interest to local auctioneers in Limerick, SMEs account for a substantial 80% of the workforce and are primarily comprised of micro and small businesses.

To address the growing skills gap, the BPFI Monitor underscores the necessity of expanding apprenticeship programs and utilizing work permits as a potential solution. While the government has initiated measures to boost apprenticeship registrations, which are now on the rise, it will take time for these new entrants to complete their training.

Additionally, work permits can serve as an invaluable avenue to address skill shortages, particularly in the construction sector. In 2022, the Department of Trade, Enterprise, and Employment issued 1,474 employment permits for positions in the construction sector, a notable increase from 608 in 2021. The first nine months of 2023 saw nearly 1,000 work permits issued.

Earlier this year, the Department sought input from sectoral representatives and employers regarding revisions to the critical skills occupational list, with the aim of facilitating employment permits for highly skilled occupations in key sectors facing labor and skill shortages.

Brian Hayes, Chief Executive of BPFI, underscores the resilience of Ireland’s economy despite the challenges posed by rising business costs, consumer prices, and the European Central Bank’s efforts to maintain price stability. Employment reached record highs in Q2 2023, exceeding 2.6 million, leading to an 8.2% increase in year-on-year income tax receipts, amounting to €23.1 billion year-to-date.

Nonetheless, the presence of labor shortages poses a risk to growth, especially in crucial SME sectors, such as construction, where SMEs account for 80% of employment. Government initiatives, including apprenticeship schemes and work permit programs, play a pivotal role in addressing the burgeoning skills gap. Encouragingly, results are beginning to manifest, with apprenticeships in the construction and electrical sectors accounting for nearly 60% of all registrations in 2022, and nearly all roles in the construction sector now being eligible for employment permits. Leveraging all available resources for new skills and workers in key sectors is essential to sustaining recent positive momentum.

For local auctioneers in Limerick, these developments are of significant relevance, as they navigate the challenges posed by the shortage of skilled personnel in the construction sector.