Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

Review of Skills and Apprenticeship Schemes: Discussion

5:10 pm

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the witnesses for attending. We are starting later than we had anticipated. I am sorry about that but am looking forward to having a timely and efficient briefing from all the witnesses. I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones or switch them to flight mode because they interfere with the sound system and make it difficult for the parliamentary reporters to report on the meeting.

The purpose of today's meeting is to have an engagement with a number of stakeholders who have made submissions, for which I thank them, to assist the committee regarding our review of the skills and apprenticeship schemes. This will be an exciting event. We are conscious that the effective development of a skills system and apprenticeship model is hugely important in helping to prepare young people for employment. We have had a good deal of engagement with universities and other third level institutions and we believe more emphasis needs to be put on the development of skills and apprenticeships to suitably equip young people with the skills they need to go out into the world and seek suitable employment.

On behalf of the committee I welcome the following witnesses to today's meeting: Tim Fenn and Michael Vaughan of the Irish Hotels Federation; Des Murphy and Martin G. O'Brien of Education and Training Boards Ireland; Michael Hourihan of Cork Institute of Technology; Andrew Smith of the Building & Allied Trades Union; Tom Parlon, former esteemed Member of this House, and Dermot Carey, both of the Construction Industry Federation; as well as Paul O'Toole and Dr. Mary-Liz Trant of SOLAS.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the Chair to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I wish to advise the witnesses that their opening statements and submissions to the committee will be published on the committee's website this afternoon. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I call Mr. Fenn to make his opening statement. I advise everybody that while we asked for briefing documents and opening statements, we suggest to the witnesses that they curtail their opening remarks to five minutes. We will hear from representatives of the different groups following which members will have the opportunity to ask questions or seek clarification on matters.

Mr. Tim Fenn:

I thank the Chairman and members for inviting the Irish Hotels Federation, IHF, to address the Joint Committee on Education and Skills. We have submitted a detailed document and I will now endeavour to cover the main points in the next five minutes.

The IHF is the national representative organisation of the hotel and guest house sector in Ireland. As a key stakeholder in Irish tourism, we work with our industry partners to ensure the right conditions are in place for tourism to grow and prosper, thereby contributing to recovery and job creation in the economy.

Tourism is one of Ireland’s largest indigenous industries. In 2016, tourism generated total revenues of €8.25 billion for the economy and accounted for 4% of gross national product. It contributed an estimated €1.9 billion in taxes to the Exchequer. Having supported the creation of over 50,000 new jobs during the past five years, tourism now employs more than 220,000 people throughout the country, which is equivalent to 11% of total employment. The industry is creating approximately 10,000 additional new jobs each year. The IHF plays an active role in developing strategies for sustainable training to address this growing demand. We promote excellence in human resource management and development across the hotels sector and support innovation in attracting, motivating and developing employees at all levels. This includes working with State agencies and education providers at a national level to develop appropriate training and education models for the industry.

On behalf of the IHF, Michael Vaughan, on my left, currently chairs the hospitality skills oversight group, which was established by Government last year to monitor progress on the implementation of recommendations of the report by the expert group on future skills needs. This oversight group provides a valuable forum for ongoing collaboration among industry stakeholders and State bodies.

With regard to career opportunities in tourism and hospitality, with tourism now on track to create a further 40,000 new jobs by 2021, the industry offers tremendous employment and development opportunities for people across a variety of skills levels, backgrounds and interests, particularly for young people entering the labour market. Career paths include chefs, accommodation assistants, receptionists, positions in food and beverage, sales and marketing, personnel management, catering, leisure centre management and roles in management, IT and finance. The industry, however, now faces serious challenges in sourcing suitably qualified staff with the right skills, including an annual requirement to recruit 3,000 qualified employees at craft level.

With regard to promoting careers in tourism and hospitality, the federation works closely with our industry partners and State bodies to increase awareness of the wealth of employment opportunities in Irish tourism. In September 2016, the IHF and the Irish Hospitality Institute, IHI, launched a national tourism careers programme in partnership with Fáilte Ireland to highlight the many career entry options available. The programme, which is being run in close collaboration with tourism and hospitality businesses, is designed to enable second level students aged between 15 to 18 to explore the full range of exciting career paths and educational and training options available throughout the country. The programme includes tourism insight,which is an interactive online programme for students and teachers; the Get a Life in Tourismmagazine, copies of which were given to members; student work experience programmes; and school talks and career events, which industry professionals attend.

With regard to education and training requirements, a wide range of third level courses in tourism and hospitality are provided throughout the country, particularly by the institutes of technology, IOTS. However, they do not fully satisfy industry requirements for semi-skilled labour, particularly in certain areas of culinary preparation. The expert group on future skills needs documented the shortage of suitably qualified chefs in Ireland and the wider economy. The group projected that the hospitality sector will require approximately 13,000 extra chefs by 2020. This skills shortage should be addressed through a greater focus on apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning.

With regard to the development of culinary apprenticeships, although the IOTs currently train in excess of 1,300 chefs annually, their output is quickly absorbed across many diverse areas of hospitality and catering.

To address the significant shortfall, the Irish Hotels Federation has been working closely with Fáilte Ireland, SOLAS and industry partners to devise a commis chef apprenticeship programme that will provide an alternative training mechanism for trainees to develop and progress their culinary skills. The programme has been designed to meet the skill needs of employers, while delivering sustainable careers and high-quality training experiences for apprentices. This development is supported by the hospitality industry consortium, a steering group formed by the IHF that consists of representatives from various hospitality and catering bodies, including the Irish Hotels Federation, the Restaurants Association of Ireland, the Irish Hospitality Institute, Euro-toques Ireland, the Catering Management Association of Ireland, training providers such as the education and training boards and institutes of technology, as well as Fáilte Ireland and SOLAS. The consortium has specifically sought and considered the views of learners and, accordingly, consulted existing learners in the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board. The IHF has also engaged with SIPTU which has expressed support for the apprenticeship and earn-and-learn model of training. This dedicated culinary apprenticeship programme will deliver a clear route for apprentice commis chefs to obtain a recognised trade qualification.

We aim to have the apprenticeship programme ready to commence later this year. On successful completion of the programme after two years, apprentices will qualify as commis chefs certified at level 6 of the national framework of qualifications. Those who wish to continue studies will be eligible to progress to the chef de partie apprenticeship programme at level 7. This will provide for a seamless progression for graduates from commis chef level to higher level qualifications. On successful completion, graduates will be eligible to progress to further training at levels 8 and 9.

The IHF has also been working in partnership with SOLAS and the ETBs to develop a national framework of career traineeship programmes that will lead to recognised qualifications at levels 4 to 6. A total of five trainee programmes in the hospitality sector have been piloted by the education and training boards and SOLAS. The pilot programmes have been supported by an advisory group that includes the federation and Fáilte Ireland. To date, the programmes have had 45 attendees, of whom 82% were employed after completion. Of these, 21 trainees were employed in the host company, ten were employed in other hotels, while six trainees were employed in another sector.

We have a commitment to training and education. The IHF is a strong advocate in support of developing national skills programmes that deliver high-quality training and education experiences for employees in the tourism and hospitality industry, while meeting the skill needs of employers. We are committed to continuing to play an active role in developing apprenticeship and traineeship schemes that support the transition of young people from education to employment to enable them to take full advantage of the career opportunities in the industry. We call for a detailed review of the training and education requirements of the tourism and hospitality sector to be carried out with a view to agreeing a comprehensive long-term plan of action to tackle the current deficiencies and provide greater clarity on how future requirements will be met. We recommend that a dedicated national programme be put in place for hospitality training and education to be overseen by a tourism and hospitality training directorate set up within SOLAS. This would involve greater collaboration with the industry and better use of existing resources from the ETBs, VECs and IOTs.

I again thank the Chairman for giving us the opportunity to participate in this review by the committee of the role of apprenticeships and skill schemes. We will endeavour to answer questions committee members may raise.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Mr. Fenn. It is clear that there is a great deal of activity. The next speaker is Mr. Des Murphy from Education and Training Boards Ireland.

Mr. Des Murphy:

Education and Training Boards Ireland welcomes the opportunity to present its observations on the development of apprenticeships and traineeships. As the representative body for Ireland's 16 education and training boards which are the main providers of further education and training and developing interesting apprenticeships, our view is based on many years of experience and operations in the sector. I will outline our views for the committee.

In line with the national skills strategy 2025, the action plan to expand apprenticeship and traineeship and the current programme for Government aim to significantly grow work-based learning in the next five years using apprenticeship and traineeship modes of learning and skills development, the programmes formally combine alternate company-based training with centre or college-based education and training and lead to nationally recognised qualifications on successful completion. There is considerable stakeholder agreement in Ireland and throughout Europe on the benefits to society of an effective work-based learning model of training directly linked with enterprise or industry. The quality of apprenticeships is important. It is important to ensure the provision of apprentices with high levels of skills continues to be a top priority as the range of apprenticeships and traineeships grows and expands. Currently, our apprenticeship system is recognised as a world leader. It is important not to lose sight of this as we try to roll it out further.

It is critical for the future of skill-based training in Ireland to retain the work-based learning element of the current system. This will require investment in the development and maintenance of the infrastructure to ensure the quality involvement of employers in the process. There will be a need to transfer resources to support the expansion of apprenticeships and traineeships. It is essential that this reform is not seen as a means of cutting costs.

We have identified that progression routes are key. Those entering an apprenticeship or traineeship should be able to see, at whatever level they enter, exactly how they may progress to higher education. This will require close collaboration between the higher education and further education and training sectors. With the representatives of the institutes of technology, the Technological Higher Education Association and the ETBI are working to put together a policy. We also need to build progression and transfer routes between traineeships and apprenticeships. Ultimately, graduates of any education and training programme should have clear routes to higher levels in the qualifications framework without having to retrace their steps. This is critical if we are to convince the parents of Ireland and career guidance teachers that this is an alternative route that does not have stops or blockages.

Attracting, incentivising and supporting employers are all important. If Ireland is to achieve its goal of expanding the range of apprenticeships and the number of young people opting for apprenticeships, it must attract more employers, in particular, small and medium-sized enterprises, that may never have been involved in apprenticeships. Crucial supports to incentivise and support employers should include a coherent programme to promote the benefits of apprenticeships to employers, as well as incentives for employers, SMEs, in particular, to encourage involvement in apprenticeships. The potential use of the national training fund should be looked at. Start-up kits and information and administrative toolkits for prospective hosts of apprentices are important. A service to facilitate the matching of aspiring apprentices with those seeking to host apprentices is critical. Some who may not come from a craft background may not know the rules. Currently, an apprentice needs a sponsor or an employer in order to be taken on. Establishing quality frameworks and professional development opportunities for those who provide on-the-job support and training for apprentices is important. In parallel, there is an urgent need to improve career guidance for apprenticeships and traineeships. We need to amend the eligibility requirements for traineeships, in particular. The lifting of the current restrictions to allow young people under the age of 25 years who have left formal education for more than four months to take up traineeships and qualify for a training allowance would be a practical way for the State to meet its obligations under the Youth Guarantee scheme, while providing opportunities for these young people to become skilled and gain sustainable employment. Currently, qualification is based on ability or whether a person is in receipt of a Department of Social Protection allowance, regardless of whether he or she receives a payment.

Raising the minimum entry standards for apprenticeships is another option that we believe would raise the status of apprenticeships. It may also be expected to raise the standards of those who complete their apprenticeships successfully. We need alternative routes to apprenticeship for those who do not thrive in the senior cycle. A two-year pre-apprenticeship programme based on the apprenticeship model should be put in place. Those who successfully complete this programme would qualify for entry to a full apprenticeship programme. There is also the potential for early school leavers to undertake a traineeship in an area suited to their aptitudes and aspirations. On successful completion, the potential to progress to a related apprenticeship should be provided for. There also appears to be real potential for accelerated transfers between traineeships and apprenticeships, especially in the construction industry, and for many other proposed new apprenticeships. We are keen for the models to complement one another rather than replacing apprenticeships or crafts by traineeships.

ETBI believes education and training boards have the potential, if appropriately resourced, to play a leading role in the provision of cost-effective off-the-job training for apprentices and trainees across a wide range of career areas and in the communities where the apprentices and trainees reside in every parish and town in Ireland. However, resourcing the further education and training sector appropriately, especially in the areas of recruitment and retention of suitably qualified staff and access to state-of-the-art training facilities and equipment, is crucial if the sector is to support work-based learning in 21st century industry and commerce.

ETBs can provide pre-apprenticeship programmes, traineeships and apprenticeship programmes on a nationwide basis in their schools, colleges and centres of education, which are located in nearly every Irish community, so trainees and apprentices could receive their off-the-job training locally. This goes back to the tradition of the VECs when they were set up.

ETBs could expand their already existing capacity to oversee and quality-assure the on-the-job phases of new training initiatives as they come on-stream. It should be possible to generate economic synergies between the existing FET and institute of technology programmes and an expanded apprenticeship programme: the potential savings to the trainees or apprentices, their families and the State through the provision of off-the-job training programmes in local centres; the possible use of IoT teaching and training facilities for the provision of off-the-job training at times when these facilities are not being used for third-level students; the possible use of ETB schools and centres to provide off-the-job education and training at times when these facilities are not being used for mainstream education purposes; the possible redeployment of some staff currently delivering FET and third-level programmes to provide off-the-job training to apprentices; potential for up-skilling some ETB staff to support enterprises involved in apprenticeship or traineeship programmes; and savings due to the reduction in welfare payments currently made to young people should be diverted to support traineeship and apprenticeship training.

It should be possible to harvest other synergies between mainstream education and training and the reformed apprenticeship and traineeship programmes.

A significant proportion of future jobs will be neither particularly high-tech, nor towards the top end of the occupational ladder but all jobs, at all levels, will require increasingly higher levels of knowledge, skill and competences. The big skills challenge for Ireland will be in the provision of low and medium skills and qualifications – in further education and training, where an effective work-based learning model can play a vital role. I believe we can answer this call.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Mr. Murphy and ask Mr. O'Toole from SOLAS to give its findings.

Mr. Paul O'Toole:

On behalf of SOLAS, the Further Education and Training Authority, I thank the committee for the opportunity to contribute to your review of skills and apprenticeship. I am joined by my colleague, Dr. Mary-Liz Trant, who is the SOLAS executive director with responsibility for skills development.

In the broadest sense, skills are an essential requirement for every person, and society as a whole, and are integral to success, both in economic and social terms. In the words of Angel Gurria, secretary general of OECD, "skills have become the global currency of the 21st century".

Skills formation of individuals happens in many ways; through personal experience and development, in the workplace and, of course, through education and training. In Ireland, the Department of Education and Skills leads on this aspect of skills formation in conjunction with the education bodies, such as the 16 education and training boards, and supported by its agencies, including SOLAS.

The role of SOLAS is to plan, co-ordinate and fund further education and training, FET, utilising the resources provided by the Department of Education and Skills. Provision is largely delivered by education and training boards and includes programmes such as apprenticeships, traineeships, post leaving certificate courses, literacy and numeracy programmes and community education.

The nature and aims of FET provision are guided by the action plan for education, the national skills strategy and other Government policies. The central ambition of the action plan for education is that Ireland’s education and training system will be the best in Europe within ten years and FET intends to make a full contribution to realising this goal. SOLAS is working in partnership with the public sector, employers and the community and social inclusion sector to deliver improved outcomes and experiences for FET learners across the spectrum of provision.

As referenced already, FET provision embraces a wide range of programmes that have been designed for many different types of learner and learning environment. Apprenticeship is one such programme and given the focus of this meeting of the committee, I will concentrate on this aspect of FET in the remainder of this opening statement.

Apprenticeship is defined as a programme of structured education and training which formally combines and alternates learning in the workplace with learning in an education and training centre. Apprenticeship is employer led, and every apprenticeship starts with a training employment contract with an employer. Apprenticeship registrations have made a welcome recovery in recent years, principally in the traditional craft apprenticeships. These numbers are expected to increase significantly; both in these existing craft apprenticeships and as the number of available apprenticeships expands through implementation of the Action Plan to Expand Apprenticeship and Traineeship in Ireland 2016 to 2020, which was launched by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, in January this year. This plan sets out an ambition to register 31,000 new apprentices in the period 2016 to 2020. This would see an increase in annual registrations; from a low of 1,200 in 2010 to over 9,000 in 2020.

Achieving this increase will require strong collaboration between employers and the relevant State agencies, including SOLAS, the Higher Education Authority and Quality and Qualifications Ireland. Good progress is now being made with five new apprenticeships launched in recent months, a further 19 in development and a new public call for apprenticeship proposals being made earlier this month.

SOLAS has a number of responsibilities in respect of apprenticeships. As the statutory body for apprenticeship, we are responsible for enabling economic sectors to undertake apprenticeship programmes through the provision of statutory instruments termed industrial training orders; we are responsible for ensuring that employers meet the required conditions to recruit apprentices and for maintaining a register and supporting these apprentices. We achieve this through designated authorised officers in each of the 16 education and training boards; with regard to the existing 25 craft apprenticeship programmes, we are the co-ordinating provider. We work with employer bodies, trade unions, education and training providers and the Department of Education and Skills to ensure that these programmes remain up to date in terms of their curriculums and teaching methodologies.

With regard to new apprenticeships, we collaborate with the Department of Education and Skills, the apprenticeship council - to which we provide a secretariat - the Higher Education Authority and Quality and Qualifications Ireland in our shared responsibility to advance the introduction of new apprenticeships. We provide a range of supports to the consortiums of employer groups and providers who lead the individual new apprenticeships. All apprenticeship programmes are subject to validation by Quality and Qualifications Ireland.

Apprenticeship is one of the oldest and most durable forms of learning. Its essence, which is the skills formation of individual apprentices through their "master" or employer passing on their skills, is as relevant today as it has been over the centuries of apprenticeship systems around the world. The Irish apprenticeship system has demonstrated its worth for many decades, including, for example, through our continuing successful participation in the World Skills Competitions. Having come through a difficult period during the recent recession, this system is on a welcome upward trajectory, both in the existing craft apprenticeships and the new ones which have already been introduced or are in gestation.

SOLAS is confident the ambitious targets for apprenticeship are achievable through employer demand and commitment, with the necessary accompanying support and investment of Government and its associated State bodies.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Mr. O'Toole. It is fitting that we move on to our next speaker, Mr. Michael Hourihan from the Cork Institute of Technology who is head of the Centre for Craft Studies.

Mr. Michael Hourihan:

I would like to thank the committee for inviting me to this meeting as apprenticeships and skills are of great interest to me both personally and professionally. Having begun my own apprenticeship in the late 1970s, then moving on to apprenticeship education in the early 1990s, I feel that I am in a unique position to comment on this topic in a meaningful and focussed manner. Furthermore, I have been involved in the World Skills Competitions for the past 17 years I have a good understanding of the education and training of apprentices from all over the world.

The traditional Irish apprenticeship system is excellent. Since 2003 at the World Skills Competitions 74% of the Irish competitors who have travelled to competition have won medals. At the competitions we regularly hear positive comments about our competitors and we receive regular requests for joint training sessions with Irish competitors. Furthermore, Irish trades qualifications are recognised and respected all over the world and, as we are all aware, Irish tradespeople have no problem getting work when they travel abroad. It is important to note that myself and other colleagues in the higher education system do not view apprenticeship provision or other skills schemes referenced in this discussion as alternatives to higher education programmes provided by the CAO system.

Rather, higher education institutes such as Cork Institute of Technology regard apprenticeship and skills schemes as an integral part of the higher education system. Institutes of technology, for example, provide phases four and six off-the-job training for the majority of the existing 27 craft apprenticeship programmes and all the off-the-job training for the new higher education apprenticeship programmes. Unfortunately, from my experience many leaving certificate students, their parents and some career guidance teachers do not know how the Irish apprenticeship system works, including, for example, how to get an apprenticeship, how long an apprenticeship lasts for, what trades are available and sometimes even what is involved in the individual trades or what the job actually is. The view is that apprenticeship leads only to a trade qualification and that following the leaving certificate, the only real option is to look at the CAO system. Nothing is further from the truth.

It should be noted that standard CAO entry to higher education is not for everyone, as is highlighted by high drop-out rates in certain disciplines. The earn-and-learn apprenticeship model would be a successful option for many of those young people who do not want to further their studies through the CAO process. Within the engineering and manufacturing industries, tradespersons have many progression paths available to them including supervisory roles, training and junior engineering positions, among others. There are many options available to apprentices and qualified tradespeople who want to continue in higher education on completing an existing craft apprenticeship. From my experience, apprentices and qualified tradespersons excel when they progress onto additional higher education programmes. Their past practical experience and work ethic mean that they normally deal with assignment deadlines and exam pressure in a very measured and focussed manner.

New apprenticeships have been developed recently and many more are in the pipeline. It is particularly encouraging to see the large number of higher education apprenticeships that have been developed or are in development as the State seeks to expand apprentice provision across all levels of the national framework of qualifications. This can only be a good thing as it gives greater exposure and strengthens the earn-and-learn model. Indeed the Department of Education and Skills, the HEA and SOLAS need to be congratulated for implementing and supporting this development.

The Irish apprenticeship system is employer-led. During the Celtic tiger period, this led to a very high number of apprentices in the system and in recent years during the downturn there were very few apprentices in the system. At present there is a shortage of tradespeople, especially in the construction industry, due to the fact that apprentices were not employed during the downturn. Thankfully, because of the commitment of State agencies such as the Department of Education and Skills, SOLAS, the HEA, ETBs, Cork Institute of Technology and all institutes of technology, we are in a position to cater for the increase in apprentice numbers that is inevitable if the economy is to grow.

For apprenticeships to thrive, we should consider several options. There should be an aggressive promotion of apprenticeships and trades at national level with input from well- known large employers, Government and training agencies. There should be engagement with second level students, their families and career guidance teachers on apprenticeships and the apprenticeship system. A national portal to facilitate connectivity between prospective apprentices and approved employers, which would greatly enhance the profile and opportunities available in apprentice education, should be developed. The national and world skills competitions should be promoted. Tradespeople and apprentices are well respected in most countries. We should examine apprenticeship training in other countries with a view to building respect for apprenticeship in Ireland. The world skills competitions would be a good starting point for this process.

Further development of new apprenticeships, particularly in higher education and promotion of the earn-and-learn model, is required. While the new developments in apprenticeship are welcome, the pace of development of new apprenticeship programmes is slower than desired. One contributory reason is the legal basis for the development of apprenticeship. I understand the HEA has recommended, in line with the recommendations of the apprenticeship review, that existing legislation should be reviewed or amended to enable greater flexibility. We should encourage industry to highlight the advantages and progression paths within industry for apprentices and tradespeople and should highlight the existing progression paths and further develop new progression paths for tradespeople within third level institutions.

CIT and other institutes of technology incurred huge expense during the downturn to keep apprentice workshop and laboratory facilities fully maintained and to retrain lecturing staff when it was necessary. This was necessary in order that we would be fully prepared for the increase in the number of apprentices in the system that is now evident. Apprentice numbers should not be allowed to rise or fall dramatically due to economic factors, which is the case with the employer-led system. We should perhaps consider a parallel system whereby there would be control over the maximum number of apprentices in the system and where the minimum number would not drop below a critical value.

Mr. Andrew Smith:

The committee has my submission so I will summarise it. I realise that the committee has a wide remit but I would like to focus on construction. The number of apprentices in the construction industry has fallen to a level that cannot serve the current and future needs of the Irish construction industry. In 2005 there were 599 new bricklaying apprenticeships. By 2015 the number had fallen to 26. Last year there were 52. This was not confined to just the bricklaying trade. Carpenters, painters, plasterers and other construction trades were also decimated. Most people would say that the reason for this was the crash in the construction industry and to a certain degree they would be right. However, while the industry is on the road to recovery - anyone looking at the Dublin skyline can see this - young people still do not want to become construction apprentices.

In the submission I sent to the committee, I stated that being a construction apprentice today was a mug's game and I stand over that assertion. When I became an apprentice in 1978 I went to An Chomhairle Oiliúna, AnCO, for my first nine months. I then worked on construction sites and went one day per week to Bolton Street for the four years. Today an apprenticeship is made up of seven modules. The first module is on-site. The second is 20 weeks in a training centre. The third, fifth and seventh are on-site, and the second and fourth are in an educational college. Today, for the privilege of taking up an apprenticeship the young person has to pay €1,000 for module two and module four. The main reason that becoming an apprentice today is a mug's game is bogus self-employment. Bogus self-employment is spreading at an alarming rate through the construction industry. It is when a contractor gives the work out to a subcontractor and he then forces the workers to work on an electronic relevant contracts tax, ERCT, basis. There were always subcontractors in the industry, and a small amount of bogus self-employment. In 2005 approximately 24% of construction workers were self-employed. Today that number is almost 40%. In 2007 the trade unions met with the Revenue Commissioners to address this growing curse on our industry. Both sides agreed that steps had to be taken and the code of practice for determining employment and self-employment status was revised. We in the trade union movement expected a fall in bogus self-employment, but this did not happen. In fact, the opposite happened. The code was not implemented. The rules were relaxed, and in 2012 the Revenue Commissioners went online. By doing this they gave the power to unscrupulous contractors and subcontractors to classify the status of another citizen.

What does all this mean? To give an example, when I was a bricklayer and went looking for a job, the main contractor - usually the name on the hoarding or the gate - was the employer and would employ me on a PAYE basis on that site. The contractor might employ 30 bricklayers and in turn would probably have approximately six apprentices. This is not the case at present. A third party subcontractor will now hire me on a site. He will then inform me that I work on an ERCT basis. He then contacts Revenue and changes my tax status. If I object, I lose my job. I am then self-employed and as such I do not get PRSI, PAYE, holiday pay or pension. If it rains, I am sent home without pay. If something breaks down on site I am sent home. I can be fired without notice. I get no redundancy regardless of the length of time I have worked for the subcontractor.

When I am laid off I must go to social welfare and be means tested. I have a zero-hour contract and in reality I have no rights. The State has put in place a situation where I am now treated like a second-class citizen. A site with 30 brick layers who are all bogus self-employed do not meet the criteria to have apprentices on the site. For the 30 bricklayers there will be no apprentices. The contractors and the sub-contractors make larger profits from operating in this way.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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Could I ask Mr. Smith to stick very particularly to the subject topic?

Mr. Andrew Smith:

This concerns the issue of apprentices.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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To be honest I feel that it has gone beyond what we would have anticipated so I ask the witness to just stick clearly to the context of looking at apprenticeships and where are the possible opportunities to develop.

Mr. Andrew Smith:

Okay. Many reports have been carried out on bogus self-employment. All the reports have shown that as a result of this the State, the industry and training have all suffered. We await a Government report on bogus self-employment. The Building and Allied Trades Union recommends the following measures for apprentices and to stop bogus self-employment - scope to be given to inspectors to do their job; ensuring that workers from outside the State pay their taxes here and employ PAYE people; and, allowing apprentices to gain further education with the option of doing level 7 and level 8, and, where possible, to give them access to higher education access routes and reopen all the training centres.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Mr. Smith. Our final contributor is Mr. Tom Parlon, the director general of the Construction Industry Federation and a former esteemed Member of the House.

Mr. Tom Parlon:

I thank the Chairman. Mr. Carey will give the initial presentation.

Mr. Dermot Carey:

I thank the committee for the opportunity to outline our views on apprenticeships in the construction sector.

I shall provide some context on the changing face of employment in the construction industry as Ireland faces the challenge of generating the 112,000 additional employees, which is required up to 2020 to deliver the targets set out in both the housing strategy and the public capital programme, and to deliver on foreign direct investment projects.

Let us consider the challenge. Rebuilding Ireland sets a target of 25,000 annual housing output by 2021. The public capital programme outlines some €40 billion in activity including road, rail, water and broadband up to 2021. Foreign direct investment has specific requirements for hi-tech construction projects. The Government has committed to delivering 47,000 social housing units up to 2021. Based on these targets, DKM Economic Consultants and the SOLAS labour market research unit, predicts that the sector will require 112,000 additional skilled people up to 2020 to deliver on this target. This figure includes replacing the 36,000 people who will retire from the industry during this period. This is an enormous challenge.

We are here today with a very clear warning; there is an urgent need for the Government and industry to collaborate in attracting more people into the industry and to invest in construction skills training. The alternative is that we will fail to meet these targets, our housing crisis will continue and our infrastructure deficit will stall economic progress. Foreign direct investment confidence to deliver will also be hit. This is a huge threat to Ireland Inc and the long-term capacity of the industry and the State.

We need to address this by attracting people into the industry from the live register, through the education system and from those with construction experience in the diaspora and by upskilling those currently working in the industry. We also need to begin to address the apprenticeship system to ensure we have a steady stream of skilled employees to sustain the construction activity our economy and society requires. The industry is hiring 1,000 additional employees per month since 2013 and by 2020 if we achieve our targets we will have more than 200,000 people working in the industry, plus 80,000 indirect jobs. It is against this pressing demand that we have to examine apprenticeships and skills in the industry.

The first key point to articulate is that the construction sector has been the principal industry sector in Ireland for employment of apprentices. At its height the sector employed nearly 27,000 apprentices. Following the decline of the economy from 2008 onwards, this number fell to around 7,000 in 2013. The figures I have included in my submission to the committee indicate the collapse of apprenticeship registrations from 2007 to 2013. There is, therefore, a resulting skills gap that has been created from almost ten years of stagnation. The extent of the collapse in registrations is more specifically highlighted in the figures and outlines the difference in registrations in the wet trades between 2006 and 2016; bricklaying and stone laying registrations were 679 in 2006 and 56 in 2016; floor and wall tiling registrations were 43 in 2006 and zero in 2016; painting and decorating registrations were at 161 in 2006 and at 27 in 2016; and plastering registrations were at 310 in 2006 and 18 in 2016.

In the context of the need to ramp up residential construction to meet current and rising housing needs, the figures outlined point to a major concern regarding the ability to deliver the emerging needs of the State, especially as the residential sector is labour intensive and requires high levels of input from the wet trades. Urgent and innovative thinking is required to address this skills need in the short term in addition to increasing apprenticeships in the medium term.

The Construction Industry Federation commissioned DKM Economic Consultants to develop a skills demand forecast in conjunction with SOLAS's labour market research unit based on the Government's strategy and the residential infrastructure provision. The extract from the document, which we submitted to the committee, highlights the forecast demand of existing employment within the construction industry. This demand indicates that there is a huge opportunity to increase apprenticeships into certain categories. We are working with SOLAS and others to address issues within the apprenticeship and traineeship system. Intake into the mechanical, electrical, carpentry and joinery trades are increasing at a reasonable pace. The difference, however, between apprenticeship registrations for the wet trades and the projected needs indicate an alarming scenario.

Our house building members, particularly outside the greater Dublin area, are reporting a very fragile recovery. In addition, those house builders who are emerging from recession are in recovery and survival mode. The recession has also fundamentally changed the nature of employment in the sector, rendering these apprenticeships unsuitable for the sector. For example, there is a predominance of sub-contracting where much of the work is done by smaller contractors who are not confident enough to take on apprentices at this time. The current phase format also causes operational difficulties for smaller companies when phase two is 20 weeks duration off the job and the employer is missing that person for all this period. This causes difficulties for a small business. There are costs associated with employment such as the removal of redundancy rebates and initial training costs with uncertain outcomes for this initial investment. There are also the low margins that still exist in the sector.

Apprenticeships are critically important and valuable to the construction industry so we are highly motivated to have a thriving model. To examine how apprenticeships can be made more relevant and attractive in the changed environment in the industry, we have commissioned Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT, to carry out research into the barriers to entry into apprenticeships. We will feed the results of this research into SOLAS with a view to addressing this issue. In advance of this research there are two potential solutions we would wish to comment on. The first is the promotion of apprenticeships as a valid path to a fulfilling career in construction and second is the particular issues with the wet trades. Our experience has shown that apprenticeships are poorly regarded among the public. The reporting of school league tables lauds those schools with 100% of students going on to university, even though drop-out rates are very high in first year at up to 70% on some courses. Apprenticeships are poorly promoted at second level. There is a lack of understanding of career progression opportunities for apprentices. Apprenticeships have been predominately construction focused, and the fear of a boom and bust economic cycle impacts on registrations. There is a lack of choice of apprenticeships limits entry; if one is not interested in construction, motor mechanics or printing, then there is no route available.

However, we accept that this is being addressed.

Therefore, what is required at this point is a promotional campaign to raise awareness of the career potential of the apprenticeship route, as was suggested in the 2013 report, "Review of Apprenticeship Training in Ireland". We are actively supporting SOLAS in the delivery of such a programme in the coming months. The CIF also believes that Government and industry should embark on a construction careers campaign to promote careers in the industry targeted at young people and those in the diaspora. The industry's attractiveness as a career destination must be highlighted through a targeted awareness campaign. As for the wet trades, we believe radical intervention is required to increase the registration numbers, particularly if the emerging needs of the economy are to be met. We have been a supporter of the employer-led nature of apprenticeships. However, the business model of employers in this sector has fundamentally changed. Therefore, we propose: a non-sponsored route into the wet trades for a limited time, that is, a scheme where apprentices would be taken directly into training centre for two phases of the apprenticeship and then taken on by employers once they have gained some skill; and re-introducing day release for these specific trades where small employers could release the apprentice one day a week rather that the current system, which takes the apprentice away for up to 20 weeks at a time.

Finally, by 2013, the CIF was forecasting recovery in the construction industry and that we needed to be proactive to address the skills needs of the sector. To this end, the CIF's manpower, education and training committee developed initiatives to ensure adequate talent was available to the sector, including engaging with career guidance counsellors through the Institute of Guidance Counsellors and careersportal.ie; launching a new website, apprentices.ie; revising the gradirelandconstruction careers booklet to include apprentices; engaging with schools nationally to promote entry; engaging with the TechnoTeachers Association to promote entry; engaging with Waterford and Wexford ETB and SOLAS to run a pilot apprentice sharing scheme. In addition, companies, such as Castle Ceilings, Errigal Contracts and Designer Group have invested heavily in the development of training academies to develop in-house skills. However, all these measures are incremental and in the face of a demand of 112,000 additional employees over the next three years, a quantum shift in support for the apprenticeship model and more collaboration between our industry and the relevant State bodies are required. A high level implementation framework for the action plan for apprentices must be put in place involving all stakeholders.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Mr. Carey. I will open the meeting to members who may wish to ask questions. Deputy Burton is up first.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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I will be brief. There are a number of summary points I want to make, to some of which perhaps the presenters might come back with more data later and to which the committee could also return.

First, I thank all those present this evening for the presentations they made and sent in. Frankly, having listened to both the previous speaker from the construction industry and the first speaker from the hotels federation, the ambition in the programme for Government for 31,000 apprentices between now and 2020 is grotesquely inadequate in the context of both the opportunities and the challenges that face Ireland.

One of the issues the committee would need to address is the number of apprenticeships. As was stated by the representative from BATU and, indeed, the Construction Industry Federation, during the years of the crash apprenticeships, particularly in the wet trades, largely died off, as did most of the firms that employed them. However, that is behind us now. We have a situation where we have a constrained, albeit nonetheless significant, infrastructure programme plus a housing programme and my honest view is the numbers of apprenticeships being planned for are grotesquely inadequate. I am not saying that is the fault of anybody here but the committee could do something useful by asking the Government to focus on the number.

If I heard the hotels federation correctly, Mr. Fenn stated that we need 13,000 chefs by 2020 and currently we are training 1,300. This means that, inevitably, we will repeat some of the worst and most stressful elements of the boom period. Inevitably, if we have that kind of a shortage in a growing economy, we will have to pass over Irish people and people who have come to live in Ireland and who are unemployed in favour of taking in skilled workers from abroad. Taking in some skilled workers from abroad is inevitable but if we are to bypass the unemployed and those who have immigrated who are also unemployed, that is a waste of human resources here on the island of Ireland to whom we can offer opportunities. I note that nobody mentioned one of the elephants in the room regarding apprenticeship, that is, the serious absence of women apprentices. While I accept in certain elements of the building trade there might be constraints, there are not many, if any, in the hotel and hospitality trade. I would appreciate more comment from the various organisations about how we move from the 31,000, which, in my view, will not be achieved, to a minimum of 50,000 to 60,000 by 2020.

I compliment the various elements of the sector on some of the new apprenticeships, particularly the electrical and mechanical ones. I had the pleasure last week of visiting DG, one of the big electrical contractors in the sector. I met 100 apprentices there, most of whom will probably go on to complete degrees and masters. From my work on the steering group looking at how apprentices move to degrees, I am aware CIT has a good track record in this respect. In a way, that is the key element missing for many parents. If one does an apprenticeship and that apprenticeship also has a route to further qualifications, as in a ladder per the Bologna principles, one can say to people that as in Germany and Austria - a small country like Ireland - this is a dual system whereby one can go straight into college, university etc. or one can go into an apprenticeship. Ultimately, one has a choice of being employed, starting a business or perhaps going the academic route in respect of universities.

I also want to comment briefly on the point made by the BATU representative. As then Minister for Social Protection, I set up a review with the Department of Finance in respect of bogus, phantom or phoney self-employment. A great deal of self-employment in the construction sector is genuine and mechanisms or structures in both the construction sector and other sectors have changed. There is a growing trend of workers being employed as contractors who traditionally were in employment. The speaker from BATU is correct in identifying that if those jobs are precarious jobs and they do not last long, those involved may end up with little or no access to certain types of social welfare payment. Most important of all, however, they may end up inadequately provided for in terms of pension and illness cover at certain stages in their lives.

Finally, members should give consideration to the levy and how it is utilised and the fact that it is significantly underspent.

The role of employers needs to be examined to see if that can be assisted. If employers can take an apprentice, particularly those - whether small or large - that have a precarious financial history in recent years, I would favour employers having a higher level of assistance. A reference was made to the possibility of a non-sponsored route for a period of time, particularly for the wet trades in the construction industry. I certainly think that if housing alone were to be taken, that makes sense.

We are coming to almost full employment in the country now. Mr. Dan O'Brien recently said that Ireland has created more jobs in the past five years than in the first 70 years of the independence of the State. We are creating many jobs, but if we look to Austria, Germany and a number of other countries, they have massively higher performance for apprenticeships and the establishment of the reputation of apprenticeships as a really good model for developing somebody's future and prospects.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the witnesses and thank them for their presentations.

I will address the Irish Hotels Federation first. My own background is in the hospitality sector, so I am aware of the shortage of chefs, commis chefs, etc. From my experience of the training centre, and I know Mr. Vaughan has experience of it in Limerick, it targeted people from unemployed areas where it has been a great success story. I would love to see more of them, and I recently raised this with the Minister. It could be replicated throughout the country, targeting areas of unemployment. There were people there who had never worked and one person was out of work for five years. They have now been placed in employment. It was a buy-in from the local hospitality sector, where hotels, pubs and restaurants all signed up to take on a number of the employees. It has been a great success story. I know from speaking with people in the hotel industry that they are finding it very hard to get staff because people do not have the necessary skills and training. Some in the industry are bringing people in and trying to train them. I would like to see an example of what is happening in the Limerick Enterprise Development Partnership, LEDP, centre in Limerick being replicated around the country. It is something that even the committee should look at. To see so many people from unemployed backgrounds being put back into employment is phenomenal. A very good video was put together which sells the message of it and what a success story it has been.

On the training centres, I would like to welcome Mr. Des Murphy. Having served in the education and training board, ETB, in Limerick myself for many years, I know what Mr. Murphy brings to the table with regard to experience and such. Is there not enough choice for apprenticeships? I know that money has been granted by the Minister and the Department for skills, apprenticeships and training. Do we need to expand the amount of courses and what is on offer? Is there enough collaboration between industry and the training centres to find out what are the needs of the different industries? The same could be said for the construction industry. I know that courses are tailored to meet the needs of the employer in some places. Is this happening across all sectors? That is a question for all the witnesses representing the different sectors. In some cases, some of the traineeships or apprenticeships can be quite focused on a particular area. Is there much co-operation between employers and trainers on what are their needs? Is it an area that should be looked at further?

I was recently speaking to someone in the construction industry, and that person was saying that many people who have the skills and training seem to abroad. Are employers targeting the diaspora enough to try to bring people back? Should it be looked at more? A question for witnesses from all the sectors is on second level schools. Third level education is not for everybody. There are some people who will never go to third level. Should there be more talks in second level schools about different apprenticeships and traineeships that are available, to encourage people? On the amount of people that study technical graphics, woodworking and so on, I am not sure of the level of co-operation between trainers and teachers. Is there much co-operation between both sides?

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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I thank the witnesses for their presentations.

I certainly agree with Mr. Dermot Carey. It sounds like some sort of nationwide campaign to promote apprenticeships is needed, perhaps on social media or television, and it needs to happen soon. My question for all groups is about what could be done to attract more women to apprenticeships. Mr. Michael Hourihan from Cork Institute of Technology says that there is a need to examine apprenticeship programmes in other countries. Is the German dual programme one that he thinks we should be working towards? What are his thoughts on how career guidance could be improved? What sort of links do the different sectors have with the Institute of Guidance Counsellors? I presume that the cuts to guidance counsellors in 2012 must have had an impact, because there would have been schools which could afford to pay for those hours, and unfortunately the schools which would traditionally have the students that might be attracted to apprenticeships are those that did not have guidance counsellors or could not afford to pay for a guidance counsellor. Did that have an impact in the past five years?

My question for Mr. Des Murphy of Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI, is on the two-year pre-apprenticeship programme. How would that work alongside the leaving certificate applied programme? Is it time to totally overhaul that? That was introduced 22 years ago so is that something we need to look at? My final question is whether there are aspects of the education system which negatively affect the perception of apprenticeships, for example, the points system and the league tables. We are all aware of certain schools that might suddenly decide to drop the leaving certificate applied option because they want to be able to attract parents who want to put students into a school that might perform better on the league tables and do not really want the leaving certificate applied programme there. How do we get that shift in cultural mindset that is so badly needed to serve our children better? Rather than serving a league table, surely we should be serving the education of our children better. Do we need to shift the leaving certificate applied option into a proper apprenticeship programme for students?

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the witnesses for their presentations.

Apprenticeships are definitely undervalued in our education system and there is a culture that we badly need to change. I say that as somebody who has visited Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT, and the National Skills Competition, and seen at first hand the high calibre of talent there. We have a skills gap and we need a change of culture. How can we do this? Do we think effective marketing for apprenticeships and traineeships would be enough to counteract this trend, or are there other initiatives that we could take? On the demand for apprenticeships, do we have any idea of the demand that exists in the sector? We know there is a huge skills gap. I know a stakeholder mentioned that there were previously 27,000 apprenticeships at the height of the sector. How long would it take us to get back there? What do the speakers think we need to do to attract mature learners into traineeships and also the apprenticeships sector? As many speakers mentioned already, we need greater participation among females. A culture change is needed there too.

On the presentation by Mr. Dermot Carey from the Construction Industry Federation, what is the level of anticipated demand for apprenticeships in the construction sector?

Do new areas of the construction sector offer potential for developing apprenticeships? What would be a more realistic entry requirement for apprenticeships bearing in mind the importance of keeping them accessible to a broad range of people? What incentives or initiatives would it be worthwhile offering to entice subcontractors to take on apprentices? There is an element of fear involved to the extent that many subcontractors do not have enough confidence to take on apprentices. This will have to change if we more people are to enter into apprenticeships.

Reference was made to the resources available to enterprise and training boards. Will the witnesses elaborate on the level of resources required to develop apprenticeships and traineeships? How much could this area develop if appropriate resources were provided? How many apprenticeships or training places could be provided?

Reference was made also to the cost effectiveness of traineeships. Should the development of traineeships be a priority?

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Mr. Smith for his comments. The Chairman is correct that bogus self-employment is not the subject of today's discussion. Nevertheless, Mr. Smith hit the nail on the head in respect of apprenticeships and I will take his point on board.

Reading the submission from the Irish Hotels Federation, is it the case that it can take an eternity to develop an apprenticeship. What are the blockages? It seems obvious that action needs to be taken in this regard. The Irish Hotels Federation has engaged in advocacy for five years and is now working with various partners in this area. The same issue appears to arise in the construction industry where it also seems to take an eternity to develop apprenticeships. Is there a problem in the system? In the United Kingdom, apprenticeships are much more broadly based than in Ireland where we have very few apprenticeships. What is the problem? We hear on the grapevine that if efforts are made, especially in the construction industry, to develop a new apprenticeship or trade, vested interests will seek to block them. Will the witnesses from SOLAS comment? Is that a factor?

What action can be taken to broaden the apprenticeships system? I am impressed by the insurance apprenticeship because it offers a level 8 qualification, which is a degree. This should be the model for many more apprenticeships. If I was an employer who came up with an idea for an apprenticeship and was able to get an education partner on board, how long would it take to get the apprenticeship up and running? How long would it take to get someone employed or into training under that apprenticeship?

I thank Education and Training Boards Ireland. Mr. O'Brien established a college in Monaghan which is doing tremendous work. I will work with him to try to put a similar model in place in County Meath. If anyone from the Department of Education and Skills is listening, Dunboyne College of Further Education badly needs a vision to put more people into traineeships, provide more support for apprenticeships and become an educational partner in the further education and training sector.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank all the witnesses for their statements. They will have an opportunity to respond to questions in a moment. I will not delay proceedings much further. However, having heard the figures on what is needed in hospitality and tourism and construction, it appears we are facing a bottleneck in terms of having adequately trained and prepared staff to service these industries. A major problem lies ahead, one which should have been dealt with yesterday, as it were. It is time to address it. The witnesses have given us much food for thought.

Parity of esteem is needed for apprenticeships in second level education and among parents. There is a major issue with career guidance. It seems information on career paths that are readily available through apprenticeships is not being provided for young persons.

I compliment Education and Training Boards Ireland. A great deal of work is being done on training and apprenticeships in Kildare and west County Wicklow, particularly in Athy and Crookstown. I am seeking to have schemes provided in north west County Kildare. I am concerned by the comment about raising minimum entry standards for apprenticeships. If entry standards are to be raised, will it give rise to the introduction of another Central Applications Office, CAO, process? Cork Institute of Technology also suggested controlling numbers and keeping them on an even base, rather than increasing or decreasing them. The evidence suggests many more apprentices are needed.

Deputy Catherine Martin referred to collaboration between businesses and employers and those providing the trades, whether through the education and training boards, SOLAS or another body. This is very important. Will the witnesses outline how we can attract greater numbers to the apprenticeship scheme? A fair point was made on fears among smaller industries about taking on new apprentices. More supports are clearly required in this area.

It is great that the Construction Industry Federation has commissioned research. The committee will be interested in receiving the results, which will be directed towards SOLAS. I commend SOLAS on the work it is doing. I met some of those involved in the sector and I am very impressed with their work.

Witnesses will have an opportunity to send written responses to some of the questions members raise. The WorldSkills competition is held every year and it is great to see our apprenticeships do very well in it.

On innovation and trying to find new areas, I visited Espoo in Finland many years ago. The city has an innovation centre and the Finnish department of education supports think tanks to develop apprenticeships in new and innovative areas. Perhaps we are not doing enough of this type of work in this country.

Mr. Michael Hourihan:

I will respond to Deputy Catherine Martin's comments on the German Meister system. We floated this idea and discussed it with some organisations but it was not received favourably because it was felt it would result in the introduction of tiers in various trades, in other words, someone would become more qualified than someone else. We kept this in mind when developing new apprenticeships. To give an example, Cork Institute of Technology has received provisional approval for a level 7 apprenticeship in engineering services management. While this does not appear to be related to a trade, the idea is to develop middle management competencies for craftspersons Rather than having them become better at their trade, we give them a new set of skills to complement their trade. We are not taking the route of having a tiered system.

The development of guidance counsellors was mentioned. Work is needed in this area because in my experience guidance counsellors are very well informed about level 7 and 8 degree programmes but much less informed about apprenticeships. This issue needs to be addressed.

What is the answer? Other than sorting it out by getting everyone into a room, I am not sure, but something must be done to try to develop this.

Photo of Catherine MartinCatherine Martin (Dublin Rathdown, Green Party)
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Have efforts been made to link in with the Institute of Guidance Counsellors and say there is a need for this-----

Mr. Michael Hourihan:

I agree that something must be done, and consulting with the Institute of Guidance Counsellors is probably the best approach. There are guidance counsellors out there who are well informed but some are not. This just needs to be clarified because I think many people assume the apprenticeship system follows the traditional level 7 and level 8 approach, but it does not. It is a completely different system. That needs to be made known to all concerned.

Deputy Nolan spoke about initiatives. I thank her for visiting the skills competition. I am involved in it heavily at national level. We run the skills competitions in CIT and DIT mainly. They happen every year but few people are aware of them. We are considering developing them and working with people to hold the competitions in the RDS, perhaps, as an annual event. That is the way forward. An event on its own promoting apprenticeships would put such competitions and apprenticeships out there. That is the answer.

Mr. Tom Parlon:

I wish to make just a few general remarks. First, it is very positive news that both the Irish Hotels Federation and the construction industry have such a positive projection for the industry and that we are seeking 100,000 people and the Hotels Federation is seeking a large number as well. It reflects the what is happening in tourism, the growth of the economy and what is happening in construction.

Clearly, construction had, and has, a great record in apprenticeships and there was an apprenticeship culture in the industry. There were 27,000 apprenticeships at the peak. Clearly, we went over a cliff, but there are new skills now. We have been involved with the ETBs through Solas. Formwork is significant in that many of the new buildings and office blocks are built with mass concrete and forms need to be made for those. We have been involved in traineeships, which do not take the same length of time but need significant involvement by employers and on-site, on-the-job work. The trainees get intensive training. A number of companies provide these traineeships, and Deputy Burton referred to one. Michael Stone, our former president, now of Designer Group, has appeared before the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Designer Group has hundreds of apprentices on the M&E side but also in steel fixing, dry lining and formwork. Specialist contractors need such people. The flexibility is just coming now through Solas and the ETBs to provide this specialist training.

In response to the representative from BATU, times have changed. There was a time when individual contractors hired workers with all the different skills. Now it is entirely specialist skills that are sought, whether groundworks, steelworks, formwork, blocklaying or bricklaying. The negative perception of these trades is odd because bricklayers and blocklayers can practically name their price. Most work on piecework. These are highly paid skills but my members are having a major problem getting those skills. Likewise, we see there are nearly 1,000 electrical contractors at present and, I think, about 500 in plumbing and 300 or 400 in carpentry, yet there are only perhaps less than 20 in the wet trades. Unfortunately, designers and architects are now designing bricks and blocks out of buildings on site in order to get over this problem. However, there are many new skills there.

We need to be fast on our feet. The industry is changing. We need to embrace the innovations. We now have new building regulations. We are nearing NZEB, nearly zero-energy buildings, standards, which represent an entirely new quality of housing in terms of energy efficiency and so on. We must move. In fairness to Solas, the ETBs and the technical colleges, I think we are in a good place. We are moving in the right direction. Our industry and our members need to keep up with this innovation as well. I think there is a culture of individual employers, be they big or small, committing themselves to taking on apprentices for a particular period. It is a changing landscape. It is the specialist blocklayers and bricklayers, plumbers and M&E contractors who need to employ these people now. They are finding they need to do so because the quality of the work of people coming in from the rest of Europe and from elsewhere outside of the country is not nearly as good as that of the homegrown craftspeople. Just as was said earlier, if a blocklayer, bricklayer or electrician is taken on and trained up, chooses to go on to third level and works his or her way up to be a foreman, he or she is a terrific asset and, generally, very loyal to the company. We are therefore very keen to support this area. However, the unfashionableness of apprenticeships or, as Deputy Nolan said, the fact that apprentices are undervalued is an issue. Regarding how we and the Department of Education promote apprenticeships, everything leads to third level, and colleges are very good at promoting themselves and filling all their places. We need a counter-campaign to encourage people into the skills and crafts because there is a very good lifestyle and a very good livelihood for them there.

Our industry has suffered a little like the tourism industry but much more and with massive peaks and troughs. We reached an outlandishly high level of activity before the peak and then fell to an outrageously low level. We need to get that levelled out. We have been looking to Government lately to get a commitment to a construction sector that would have cross-party support, a fairly level and fairly constant capital investment programme, a fairly constant housebuilding programme and a fairly constant refurbishment programme, all the while continuing to be able to attract foreign direct investment. The optimum level of activity would be about 10% to 12% of GDP. We have been down to 6% and were previously up to 23%. The figure is now rising. By 2020, our DKM projection, to which Mr. Carey referred, suggests we will be worth about €20 billion and about 10% of GDP. The challenge for everyone is, when we get to that level, to try to hold it. Then the people who qualify in skills or otherwise and have jobs in the industry will be able to be maintained in the industry.

Mr. Des Murphy:

I will respond to Deputy Nolan's comments about the two-year pre-apprenticeship and the applied leaving certificate. We see the importance of the latter in a wide range of areas, so the two-year pre-apprenticeship is in no way a matter of replacing the applied leaving certificate. We are talking about the two-year pre-apprenticeship as a potential route for people who may not reach leaving certificate standard or who feel the senior cycle is not for them. At present, this is provided through the CTCs, the community training workshops, or Youthreach, but we are trying to bring that into a more structured format which allows progression to apprenticeship.

Deputy Nolan raised the issue of raising the minimum standard but over 80% of current apprenticeship entrants are at leaving certificate level in what would have been the standard crafts. When many companies advertise, they clearly seek people with leaving certificates. People need to be aware that in order to get through the curricula as they are being developed and as the new skills are coming in, they need good base levels. There was the issue during the recent downturn that people in the industry who perhaps came in without being at leaving certificate standard found it more difficult to cross-train or retrain. The leaving certificate also opens up the potential for progression into third level in the future. There is that progress route there and it is important apprenticeships not be seen as a dropout or whatever else from education. That is where we are coming from.

I also wish to clarify the question of resources. What we are talking about in this regard is very much that we need to attract skilled technicians and skilled craftspeople if they are going to be able to deliver at that level. We are talking about people who would have the potential to reach supervisory level within the industries involved, so there is the issue there of examining the whole salary and recruitment structure and the inability to recruit to permanent positions. In addition, if we are talking about having state-of-the-art training programmes, we need state-of-the-art facilities and equipment on which to train people. These are what we would identify as the resources required.

The league table Deputy Martin mentioned is a major issue.

When we talk about career guidance and everything else, the problem is that a principal of a school is judged on where the school is on the league table. It is very important for parents sending their children to the school. If a principal has 100 leaving certificate students and 20 of them achieve very good apprenticeships, it is a disaster for the principal because the school is seen as only having 80% of students going on to third level education. That is a critical thing to change. The student is going on and doing a level 6 or 7 course, but if that is not clearly identified and seen as being progression it is difficult to get the entry or buy-in into schools. It is detrimental to the progress of the school. There is an issue in that regard at present.

Mr. Andrew Smith:

I thank Tom Parlon for some of the nice things he said about bricklayers and members of the construction industry. He is right. The construction industry is starting to recover at present. BATU and all the other unions very much welcome that. We keep up with the times. We are well aware that the major construction companies have changed, have become more management level and are using sub-contractors. We have embraced that too. I spoke about self-employment and I will not go over that again, but the problem we have is PAYE for workers. The member referred to piecework. I was a brickie all of my life and worked on piecework all of my life. I worked on piecework on a PAYE basis. The words "career", "future" and "livelihood" have been bandied around here with regard to the future of an apprentice, but if a young man rings me, tells me he would like to be an apprentice brickie and asks me what happens when he serves his time I will tell him he will be forced into self-employment. He will say he does not want that and that he wants to be able to go to a bank and borrow and so forth, so it will turn him off. We are seeing it reflected in the numbers.

As regards the diaspora, guys are ringing us in the union to ask if there is PAYE work available in Dublin. We have to tell them the truth, that it is not available in the majority of cases. The main companies are doing their business correctly, as Tom Parlon knows because they are members of the CIF and have been around for a long time. However, they are at a major competitive disadvantage because of what is taking place. All we are saying is that the industry should be policed. Young people will come back into it and we welcome that. We are not asking for anything else. We just want the industry to be policed properly, whether that is registered employment agreements, REAs, sectoral employment orders, SEOs, or PAYE. We are asking for Scope in the Department of Social Protection to get its inspectors out and about. That is all.

Mr. Michael Vaughan:

Senator Byrne raised a valid point about the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board, LCETB. With regard to hotels and catering, we had a formalised apprenticeship system for a number of years. However, in 2003, by dint of the withdrawal of the Council for Education, Recruitment and Training, CERT, we lost a very good agency that promoted training and development in the industry. There was a lacuna of approximately ten years in which the State had no formal involvement in training in hospitality and catering. We have had to re-learn that. In Limerick, we went into the nascent ETB that was forming there, the LCETB, and told it there was a need for trainees and to train people in the old fashion. We took over the old CERT building in Roxborough and it was one of the positive examples of six or seven State agencies coming together to make something happen. Every agency involved, such as SOLAS, ETB, Intreo, all the other Departments and the Limerick Integration Working Group, pulled together. We have had a great success story there. It is mainly because, and this is interesting, we had employers involved in interviewing candidates as they came in, so we knew the type of person who would work well in the industry. Then the ETB gave tremendous assistance to people before they entered into that formal training where they had, perhaps, learning difficulties or other issues.

One of the big issues in apprenticeships, and this speaks to the number of women in apprenticeships in particular, is that we do not treat apprentices in the same way as we would treat third level students. We do not give them the same type of accessibility, for example, in terms of getting to places and allowances they might have to travel. There are some requirements for implements and tools in various apprenticeships that would have to be considered. We also must consider matters such as child care and other facilities that would allow women to participate to a greater extent. In the hospitality industry we have always had great success with women in the industry, but the problem has been the retention of people over a longer term. A longitudinal study is required to find out the reasons for that.

We started five years ago on the apprenticeship system we have developed. We had hoped to be training 500 or 600 people a year. It has taken a tortuous amount of time. The system is arcane. We have had to re-learn and learn what qualifications are. In the third level, there is delegated authority to the institutes of technology so they can develop their own education system and have the programmes up and running quite fast. It was a learning curve with the ETBs. QQI had particular standards and quality standards had to be implemented. A centralised system had to be put in place. This has required a great deal of patience on the part of the employer, but we are sticking with it. We will start this apprenticeship, hopefully, in September or October and we will have many employers available to do the training. However, one aspect we could consider is helping employers. The employer who takes on an apprentice is an employer who has a long-term vision for employment, the success of their employment and the success of the apprentice. In the current system, however, the State gives no recognition to those employers in respect of possible benefits they might get on PRSI or other credits. We could part fund some of this by recognising quality employers. The Irish Hotels Federation has a quality employers scheme. If good employers were recognised in that fashion, we would create centres of excellence within employment and we would promote apprenticeships in a more valid way.

The traineeships link in extremely well to this. People coming into apprenticeships will not always have the ability to do the learning that they require. The traineeships might give them a chance to sample an employment and decide where to go. This is critical to what we need to do in the area. With regard to what we are trying to achieve, not every employer will be able to take on the rigours of the new apprenticeship system. The old apprenticeship system in the construction industry was much simpler. There was much less in terms of the type of certification and pre-certification required. The ongoing quality standards have had to be changed. Apart from anything else, there is an amount of documentation and rigour involved in assessing the apprentice as they go along. Employers currently do not have that capability. They will have to be trained, so this is taking some time.

The work that is taking place at present is ground work. I believe we will do a tremendously good job with apprenticeship systems, but it is not turning around fast enough. To reply to Senator Byrne, I am not sure that it should be as fast because we are laying down the ground work for something that will be with us for a long time and will benefit the apprentices and the employers. I must compliment the ETBs in particular. They have been tremendous in their application to this and the learning that has been involved. The support from SOLAS has certainly been visible. Although it has been a really frustrating time for us as employers, we can see at this point that what we are doing is something the State and the employers will benefit from for a long time.

Mr. Paul O'Toole:

A huge number of points were made by fellow contributors but I will concentrate on the points made by the Chairman, Deputies and Senators. I wish to make one observation to start. When I attended previous manifestations of this committee under previous Governments during the recession, the narrative was about how to help unemployed people in a time of recession and deep trouble. While the challenges are huge now, it is a much more positive time because the challenges are about positive opportunity and how to maximise and leverage them, as distinct from no opportunity at all.

A number of points were made about the level of ambition for apprenticeship. I would fold traineeship into that as well. Consider some of the numbers provided by Tom Parlon and Dermot Carey. In 2007, at the peak, there was a population of 28,500 apprentices in the system. In 2013, there 5,700. That was a fall of 80%. Today, there are over 11,000 in the system and the number is growing. The ambition is that between now and 2020 there will be a registration of 50,000 in a combination of apprenticeships and traineeships.

We are coming from a very low base off the recession, and it will take the collective will of employers, providers, the representative bodies here today, the trade unions, ourselves and others in the education system to realise this. There is very strong ambition for apprenticeship and traineeship, and I want to reinforce this. Even though the journey is challenging, this is our aim.

A number of comments were made in respect of female apprenticeship, and the numbers are stark. There are very few female apprenticeships in the existing cohort. While new occupations are opening up which will create opportunities, it is important we try to understand why this is the case. We have done some research with young men, young women, parents and guidance teachers about why this is so. The truth of it is apprenticeship is not even on the radar of young women. They do not think about apprenticeship. They do not see themselves there. If we think of subject choices that might be taken when people enter secondary school and the opportunities to get experience in craft-type learning, it just does not happen. There are deep rooted issues we have to tackle, but one of the biggest, which links to points made by a number of members and others, is the need to promote. Apprenticeship is not as understood as it should be. We, along with employers, trade unions and others, have a job to do to make information available in an accessible format, so school leavers, whose immediate familiarity is with the CAO system, can potentially look at an apprenticeship and think of other opportunities. Apprenticeship is not a course. It is a period of learning that starts with an employer and then migrates to the State in terms of off-the-job training. We really have a job to do on this.

A number of people mentioned WorldSkills and how important this is and how very well we do. We work collaboratively with Cork Institute of Technology and others on this. It is a wonderful window into the skills of our craftspeople and others, and there is an opportunity to grow it and use it as a vehicle of promotion to the possibilities of apprenticeship of which we want to be part.

The Chairman mentioned parity of esteem. Many of the other commentators spoke about how well we regard apprenticeships and what we value. With better information and promotion of apprenticeship, and the reality that apprenticeships create the possibility of work for life, there is the opportunity to rebalance this. When I was growing up apprenticeships were highly valued and people sought them. This is still there, but maybe not as manifest as it should be.

Another point was made on innovation and how we have a more innovative approach to expanding the range of apprenticeships and looking at new areas. I look at innovation in two ways. There is innovation within each apprenticeship. We systematically review each existing apprenticeship, mindful of changing processes, technologies and ways of working in each of the crafts, trying to ensure the new curriculum reflects the new realities of ways of working so we keep abreast of the type of skills required for the future. It was suggested that as the new apprenticeships start rolling, and we have five already with 19 in development, we will see a range of occupations open up for new possibilities of apprenticeship, mindful again of the point of tying in traineeship to this. We have a number of challenges, including the challenge of securing the necessary resources, and we are part of the process of the review of funding taking place in higher education and further education and training as we speak. While there is this challenge for resources, there is a more positive climate to try to generate more apprenticeships and better quality opportunities for our learners.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Mr. O'Toole and all of the witnesses for their contributions, attendance and submissions and opening statements. We also received submissions from other groups and organisations with an interest in this area. I thank those who came to listen to the proceedings this evening. We very much appreciate their time and attention. If they feel there is something they would like to add to this, if they care to write a submission to the clerk we will certainly consider it. We will make recommendations to the Minister and will take on board all of the opening statements, the toing and froing with the members and the submissions. We look forward to passing this on to the witnesses. At any stage if they feel they would like to add further information, they should please feel free to contact us through the clerk or myself and we will make sure all of the members receive it.

The joint committee adjourned at 7.45 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Tuesday, 30 May 2017.