Career transitions for the new generation of construction talent

by | Jan 2, 2024

Aidan Priestley discovers more about the CIF’s School Partnership Programme and how member companies are supporting younger industry talent

Carl Smiley, a 15-year-old Transition Year student, recently spent a week immersing himself in the Irish construction industry through a work experience programme at a training centre managed by the esteemed Irish building company Sisk.

His journey sheds light on the realm of apprenticeships in Ireland’s construction sector, offering a glimpse into the opportunities and experiences available to aspiring young talents.

Throughout his week at Sisk’s training centre, Carl found himself engaged in various tasks alongside apprentices. “With all the apprentices, there was work all the time, so you weren’t sitting around doing nothing, which I really appreciated,” he says.

His routine involved a range of tasks, from assisting apprentices in various activities to handling tools and materials.

“Helping out the apprentices with all the things they need to do from here to there,” he adds, detailing tasks that ranged from lifting timber to removing nails from wood, emphasising the practical, hands-on nature of the work.

“You get to do a lot of the real work with the apprentices, every day was something new for me to get hands-on experience”.

And it wasn’t just observing, Carl was actively involved in the process, learning the nuances of the work.

“When they were putting the wood into place, they were explaining the angles and how to position it,” he adds, underscoring the interactive learning experience. They took the time to really show me how to do it right.”

What resonated deeply with Carl was the emphasis on mentorship and guidance within the apprenticeship programme.

He highlighted how the apprentices took the time to explain and demonstrate their work, providing invaluable insights.

“They were explaining how it’s done, what tools should be used, what’s an easier route, you know,” he says, showcasing the depth of learning embedded in the experience.


Carl’s interest in woodworking, some of which is pictured above, emerged from a preference for practical learning over traditional classroom settings.

“I’m not really a man for sitting in a classroom all day,” he says, explaining his decision to study woodworking.

“You’re not going to be sitting in a classroom, you’re going to be getting to know things that you can really use. Woodwork allowed me to learn things practically, and I found it quite easy to apply those skills, even at home.”

Carl’s experience sheds light on the pivotal role of work experience programme in nurturing the next generation of skilled workers in the construction sector.

In the face of a growing skills shortage, initiatives offering such practical experiences become instrumental in bridging the gap between education and the industry’s demands.

His enthusiasm for the construction sector, particularly carpentry, was palpable. Carl expressed keen interest in Sisk’s structured apprenticeship programme, recognising its potential to shape his future.

“The way Sisk trains its apprentices, the way they go on to become fully qualified carpenters, 100 per cent, I’d be interested in that industry,” he says.

Carl’s admiration extended to the teaching methods at Sisk, highlighting the stark difference between structured training and informal apprenticeships.

He says: “The way they’re taught is just pitch perfect. It’s just remarkable.”

His experience at Sisk solidified his aspirations towards a career in professional carpentry within the construction industry.

“To see these lads in a company like Sisk, the way they describe it and the atmosphere they have, it’s something I want to be a part of,” he says.

In the context of Ireland’s construction industry facing a shortage of skilled workers, Carl’s experience underlines the significance of apprenticeship  programmes in nurturing the future workforce.

By providing firsthand insights and practical skills, these programmes play a pivotal role in addressing the industry’s demand for skilled talent. Carl’s journey exemplifies the potential outreach to Transition Year students can have.

To introduce younger students to the world of structured apprenticeships, setting them on the path to apprenticeship by demonstrating the promising careers within Ireland’s vibrant construction sector.

Trish Flanagan, Executive of Education and Skills at the CIF, outlines a major initiative that has been her focus for the year in engaging with members on the School Partnership Programme.

“The CIF are asking members to get involved themselves,” she says, “in response to the ongoing issue of access to skilled labour.”

The initiative encourages members to engage with schools in any number of areas, to foster interest in students to pursue a career in the industry.

Her work is spurred by the CIF Outlook Survey this year that found access to skilled labour was the top challenge facing businesses.

“As an industry, we are in an ideal position to promote careers in construction and we are encouraging members to partner with a  local school to promote careers in the industry to young students,” she says.

She encourages members to get in contact with her for the year to come to help foster the enthusiasm for young people to enter the industry.

You can also find more information and to register your interest by visiting

“In the last year a significant number of in-house courses have been delivered in the classroom environment” according to Head of Learning and Development, Robert Butler, “which is a significant and positive shift from the two years prior.”

“Both learners and tutors get better learning experience with face-to-face interaction, and the feedback is always positive. While the majority of the public courses are still being delivered online as this works for a significant number of companies,” he says.

“We have seen a significant demand for the wider range of programme content now offered and this in part is being driven by CPD requirements and the need to upskill employees as part of retention of talent initiatives.”

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