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Decarbonising Ireland’s building stock: how immigration policy can help solve workforce challenges

Working papers

Written by Claire Kumar, Ambassador David Donoghue

Hero image description: Installation of fabric insulation in home. Image credit:Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Ireland has made significant commitments to retrofitting residential buildings and to scaling up the construction of new homes to address the country’s chronic housing shortage. This study looks at how Ireland could use immigration policy to support workforce development in the construction sector.

Key findings

The scale of the challenge to meet national targets is immense, and the availability of labour is now the single biggest barrier. New entrants, particularly craft workers (plumbers, electricians, carpenters, insulation operatives) are needed in substantial numbers. Recruiting elementary (manual) construction workers will also be a significant challenge, but is largely ignored in immigration-related discussions.

Migrant workers have driven increases in the construction sector workforce in the last year, as numbers of Irish workers have declined. All evidence points to a future of increasing reliance on migrant construction workers from non-EU countries. There is clearly a demand for more accessible labour, some of which is met by international protection applicants, such as the significant cohort of Georgian applicants.

Immigration is already part of the government’s approach to workforce development. However, the most proactive efforts have been skewed toward large construction firms (that require the least support) and professional occupations (with somewhat smaller shortages). The government needs immigration solutions tailored to the needs of smaller firms that are critical for retrofitting and to refocus efforts at mid-skill and more elementary construction occupations.

This text was amended on 12 March 2024 to correct a reference to the process of amendment of the Employment Permits Regulations in relation to the Critical Skills Employment Permit.