Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 2 November 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills
Leaving Certificate Reform: Discussion (Resumed)
There were loads of questions and I have little time to answer them. I want to both agree and disagree with Deputy Conway-Walsh on various matters. I will not drop the idea, as the Deputy said, that part of the issue around apprenticeships is not a lack of information, a snobbery or a cultural issue because I genuinely believe it is. That is not abdicating responsibility because I accept it is only a part of the issue.
I met Zoe, the 1,000th female registered apprentice in Ireland, who is an accounting technician in Cork and no one ever told her about apprenticeships. She did not know anything about them but her brothers in school became aware of them. She was not aware of them because she went to an all-girls school. Zoe said that if she had have been made aware of them much earlier her career pathway would have been easier. I also met Jack in Cavan, who got his first choice in his CAO application and started his degree but he hated it so he dropped out and did a pre-law course in Cavan Institute. Jack told me that if he had known about that course first it would have been an awful lot more straightforward. Karen in Sligo College of Further Education was gutted when she did not get the points she wanted in her leaving certificate. She went to Sligo College of Further Education for a year and is now going on to St. Angela's College to do her degree. She said she feels better developed as a person as a result.
I genuinely and passionately believe that the pathways, information and knowledge we are giving our students at the age of 16 and 17 are key. That is not in contradiction with the point Deputy Conway-Walsh validly makes about the need for us to also up our game in what we are doing. I fully accept that. We are doing a couple of things although I will not have time to get into all of them. I will mention increasing the number of available apprenticeships, because availability was a core part of the Deputy's question, as two key actions are taking place next year. First, from January a core financial payment of around €2,000 per apprentice per year will be made to any employer that takes on a new apprentice. The hospitality sector and the Restaurants Association of Ireland have been looking for such a financial incentive for an employer to take on an apprentice for years. Second, there has been hypocrisy about this in the public sector. We wag our fingers about apprenticeships and give out about them but the entire public sector, which employs around 300,000 people, on average takes on 80 apprentices per year. That is a darn disgrace. There is a target in the apprenticeship action plan of 750 apprentices per year by 2025. By next July the quotas of what council, agency and Department is doing what will be brought to Cabinet.
Mr. Brownlee will comment on the apprenticeship backlogs and the wait times because SOLAS is driving those down. The Deputy said it is inadequate but I am satisfied with the plan that is in place. The only constraint in increasing the capacity has been public health concerns and we are now in a good place in that regard. Any funds that have been or will be required will be forthcoming. I accept that it is not all down to Covid but this is a chance for something good to come from Covid so we must remove that backlog once and for all.
The Deputy is entirely right about pre-nursing. When Mr. Brownlee and I talk about this new portal on Friday being the first step towards an integrated third level system, one of the next steps has to be that if one goes on to do pre-nursing or pre anything else and one gets the top marks then there has to be a linkage. I am committed to delivering on that as part of our integration of the tertiary education system.