Upgrading the image of the construction industry is necessary to attract workers

The construction industry must rebuild its image to attract vital workers to the renovation sector, they told politicians.

Graduates see it as it used to be – labor-intensive, outdoor, on-site work, the Oireachtas Climate Action Committee has heard.

The reality was that much of the work was clean, desktop-based, digitally driven, and required highly skilled designers, IT staff, and other experts.

Seamus Hoyne, of the Sustainable Development Research Institute at Shannon University of Technology, told the committee that a shortage of workers risked undermining the ambitious national renovation plan before it was even properly launched. .

Recruiting overseas to bring in and bring back workers would be key, Mr Hoyne said. But he added that new recruits also needed to be drawn into the field – and for that to happen the image of the industry needed an overhaul.

“We need to change the message about attracting people to the construction industry, especially the sustainable built environment,” he said.

“We are now moving towards a place where a huge amount of digital tools are used.

“We envision modular systems and lots of work done in offices by very skilled designers, researchers, engineers and architects.

“But also on site, we are switching to much cleaner systems. These images and messages must be very clear to attract people.

Mr Hoyne said the drive to increase apprenticeships for roles such as plumbers and electricians also needed to be strengthened.

The Climate Action Committee has held a series of meetings on the retrofit plan, which aims to see 500,000 homes upgraded to an energy efficiency rating of at least B2 by 2030 .

Members have heard that it is difficult to make heritage properties and traditionally built houses energy efficient.

Dr Cathy Daly, a conservation expert at the University of Lincoln, UK, said knowing how to manage these properties was crucial for climate action efforts, as an existing building retained its embodied carbon much more effectively than replacement with new construction.

But she said standard renovation techniques were often not appropriate and could damage properties without achieving results.

This was particularly important in Ireland, where 16% of all private homes were built before 1945, she said.