Key points for selected operatives and related occupations
- In 2014, there were approximately 67,000 persons employed in operative occupations, representing 3.5% of Ireland’s workforce (Figure 9.16.1)
- Two thirds of total employment of operatives (44,000 persons) was concentrated in manufacturing (mainly, food; machinery and equipment; pharmaceuticals; computer, electronic and optical products); the remainder was spread across several other economic sectors
- Between 2009 and 2014, overall employment in the selected occupations expanded by 4.8% on average annually; the strongest pace of growth recorded among the 17 broad occupational groups examined, and well above the national average annual rate of 0.5%; employment grew for most occupations (excluding other process operatives and plant & machine operatives (each contracted by just over 4% on average annually) and chemical & related operatives (remained virtually static); the strongest employment growth rates were observed for food, drink & tobacco operatives (18.2% on average annually); assemblers (8.4% on average annually) and construction operatives (6.7% on average annually (Figure 9.16.2)
- Over the five-year period, overall employment levels increased by 14,000; the largest employment increases (in absolute terms) were observed for food, drink & tobacco operatives (7,000) and routine operatives (4,500); the largest decrease was observed for plant & machine operatives (2,000)
- Between 2013 and 2014, overall employment decreased by 6.6%, or almost 5,000; the largest decline was observed for routine operatives, a reversal in the trend observed since 2009
- One quarter of employed construction operatives was aged 55 or older ─ double the national average share ─ and the most mature workforce among operative occupations (Figure 9.16.3)
- The education profile of employed operatives was skewed towards lower educational attainment levels; just over half of employed construction operative had lower secondary or less qualifications; the corresponding share was one third for both other process operatives and plant & machine operatives; the share employed in each occupation who had attained higher secondary/FET qualifications exceeded the national average (Figure 9.16.4)
- Half of construction operatives in employment were non-Irish nationals ─ one of the highest shares among occupations in the national workforce; the share was at or close to one fifth for those employed in most other operative occupations.
While over 3,500 vacancies were advertised for operatives through the PES and Irishjobs.ie portals alone in 2014, there were over 10,000 operatives (mostly process and construction) seeking employment through the PES in May 2015.
Many vacancies are arising due to turnover, with frequent changes of employers observed in 2014 for all types of operatives, including food, process and construction operatives.
Nonetheless, a shortage of CNC (computer numeric control) operatives has been identified, particularly in high technology manufacturing (e.g. medical devices and pharmaceuticals) and engineering.
Many unemployed operatives have been trained in traditional operative skills and are deficient in technical and digital competencies required for high technology automated manufacturing. In response to the shortage, a new course was introduced in the Sligo, Mayo Leitrim ETB in Spring 2014. Approximately 30 qualified CNC operatives are expected to emerge from this course.
The demand for operative skills is expected to remain strong in the medium term due to the expected strong performance of the high tech manufacturing sector. Although the continued automation of manufacturing processes will result in the further substitution of labour by capital equipment, this will benefit skilled operatives at the expense of unskilled labourers.
However, to avail of job opportunities, up-skilling of operatives will be necessary, as their roles become more knowledge and technology intensive and the distinction between technician and operative roles becomes less clear.