Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 9 November 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection
Community Employment Programme
Today, we are joined by officials from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, namely, Ms Kathleen Stack, Ms Deirdre Shanley and Mr. Jim Lynch. You are all welcome. Members have already been circulated with the opening statement. I will call on Ms Stack to make her opening comment in a moment. Members will then be invited to address questions to the officials.
I wish to draw the attention of the 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 you are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and you continue to so do, you are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of your evidence. You are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and you are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, you 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.
The opening statement submitted to the committee will be published on the committee website after the meeting.
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 Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
If you have mobile telephones, please turn them off.
Ms Kathleen Stack:
My colleagues and I welcome the opportunity to meet committee members today to discuss the community employment programme. I am joined by Deirdre Shanley, who is the principal officer with responsibility for employment programmes and is based in Carrick-on-Shannon, as well as Jim Lynch, who is divisional manager for the mid-west division and is based in Limerick.
Community employment, or CE as it is most commonly known, is the largest of the Department's range of programmes catering for long-term unemployed jobseekers and those most distant from the labour market. The purpose of the programme is to break the cycle of unemployment, maintain work readiness and improve the opportunities of a participant to return to the labour market. Employment programmes such as CE also support the delivery of vital services in local communities, something that has long been acknowledged by the Department and Government.
At the end of September, a little over 21,000 participants were on the programme and there were over 1,300 supervisors. CE schemes provide part-time temporary work in local communities. The schemes include opportunities for training and development as a stepping-stone to employment for people in receipt of a range of social welfare payments, including those on long-term jobseeker's payments. It is important to recognise, however, that CE placements are not full-time sustainable jobs.
CE schemes are typically sponsored by groups, known as CE sponsors, wishing to benefit the local community. These include voluntary and community organisations and, to a lesser extent, public bodies involved in not-for-profit activities. Such programmes provide a valuable service to local communities while at the same time providing training and educational opportunities for jobseekers.
As members of the committee will be aware, participants work for an average of 19.5 hours per week. The rate of payment is linked to the person's social welfare rate, with a minimum weekly rate of €215.50. Participants may receive extra allowances in respect of qualified adult and child dependants as well.
I will set out some statistics to put things into context. While there was a 40% fall in the live register in the period from 2012 to 2017, over the same period CE participation has remained relatively constant. The numbers on schemes in June 2012 were approximately the same as at the end of September 2017. It is important to note that the number of people on CE schemes fluctuates on an ongoing basis as vacancies arise and are filled on schemes. Given reducing numbers on the live register, which is the main target cohort for CE schemes, demand for places can vary as well.
As the economic recovery takes hold and the overall level of unemployment continues to fall, the Department recognises the need to adapt schemes to the changing circumstances, opportunities and needs of jobseekers and others. With this mind, the Department undertook an analysis of the CE programme, and this was completed in late 2015. Government approval was obtained to publish the review report in April 2017 and to implement the various changes recommended.
The review looked at community employment or CE, Tús, Gateway and the rural social scheme. It was agreed by the Government that the overall number of scheme places available in 2017 will be 32,000. CE will continue to be the largest programme this year, with 22,400 places available across schemes. The balance will be made up of placements in the rural social scheme and Tús.
In general, the changes agreed by the Government broaden access to CE to a wider range of people and emphasise the importance of training and upskilling of participants. In particular, members of the committee should note that: the qualifying age for CE places has been reduced from 25 to 21 years; all CE placements for new entrants aged between 21 and 55 years are for one year, and participants working towards a major award can seek to extend their participation by up to a further two years; those over 55 years of age can remain on CE for three consecutive years; and it is now easier for previous participants to re-enter CE as participation prior to 2007 is disregarded, and previously the year used was 2000. In advance of the roll-out of the new measures, the Department consulted with key stakeholders across the country in May and June 2017.
With regard to CE participation for older people, the pilot initiative announced in December 2015 enables a percentage of those aged 62 years or over to participate on CE on a continuous basis up to State pension age. This initiative is currently under review and we expect it to be finalised in the coming weeks. In recent months, the Department has also begun rolling out a two-strand approach whereby CE placements are being categorised as activation or social inclusion. This recognises that unemployed people get different types of work experience on CE. Some placements are closer to the labour market in terms of the type of experience they provide, with an emphasis on certified and industry-recognised training. These places offer good progression opportunities for participants to access jobs in the open labour market. Other places are more geared towards people who are very distant from the labour market and represent a first or intermediate step back into employment. As a consequence of this work, different progression targets will be set for the different placements.
Given the reduction in the live register and other activation options available, including JobPath, Tús and CE, there are increased opportunities available for welfare recipients. The impact of an increasing number of people at work and the continued reduction in the live register are all factors in recruitment to work programmes. It is important to point out, however, that the Department continues to refer candidates to CE schemes so any sponsors who have recruitment concerns should contact their local Intreo office. If there is a lack of interest in a vacancy, schemes may be required to assess the quality of the vacancy offered.
In recent months, concerns have been expressed about the impact of JobPath on CE and how it operates. The aim of the JobPath service is to assist jobseekers in finding sustainable full-time employment. On the other hand, CE schemes, as I have outlined, provide part-time work experience and training opportunities in local communities as a stepping stone back to employment for those on long-term unemployment payments. Jobseekers who are already participating with the JobPath service will not be referred to CE schemes as they can only participate with one activation scheme or service at a time. However, customers who on the date of their referral to JobPath have a written offer, with a start date within four weeks, for CE will be facilitated to take up the placement. In recent months, those jobseekers that have completed their 52 week engagement with JobPath without finding suitable and sustainable employment are being referred back to their Intreo centres for an assessment by a departmental case officer. They may then apply for other activation supports, such as CE, thus ensuring ongoing availability for CE schemes.
Over the years, CE has developed into a unique programme that integrates employment interventions and training for the individual with community service provision. It is an important resource for communities to identify their own needs and provide vital community services in both urban and rural areas. Both the Government and the Department remain committed to the programme and the work it is doing. My colleagues and I are happy to discuss any issues raised by members of the committee.
I welcome the witnesses and thank them for the presentation. A few matters have occurred to me arising from that opening statement. It is interesting there are still the same number of participants on CE schemes as there was when the unemployment rate was much higher. I presume that is because the schemes have been adapted and rules have been changed to accommodate more people. Is that the explanation or only a partial explanation?
Community employment schemes are very popular and do tremendous work. There is no doubt about that and there is big demand for them. I wish, in responding to my constituents, I could establish many more in Limerick because of the big demand. One of the objections always being made about community employment schemes is a lack of training. The witnesses made the point in the statement that they are rolling out a new initiative, with one stream focused on training and the other focusing on giving people the habit of getting back to work, which is what community employment schemes do now. Will they provide more details and has this been rolled out on a pilot basis? When did that start and how extensive is it? I note changes made relating to people who are over 62. That was rolled out on a pilot basis and it is also under review. Has there been any decision on that? It seems to have worked well and many people, in my experience, took it up. They were delighted they were able to continue with it. What is the updated position on that?
Representations have been made to me and, I am sure, to others as well about the problem concerning the interaction between JobPath and the community employment schemes. For example, people have said they are looking for personnel to fill a community employment scheme but they cannot get participants. There are people who could potentially participate but they cannot because they have signed up to JobPath. The witnesses indicate this is because jobseekers are already participating with the JobPath service. It is fine if one is participating but if one is simply sitting around, waiting to be called for a job and doing nothing else, I would not describe it is participation. That person might be signed up but is not actively participating. This has been raised a number of times in the Dáil but I do not understand the logic of a position where, in some parts of the country at least, community employment schemes are crying out for members and people are available to serve and make them a reality but they are being stopped from participating for a year because they have signed up to JobPath. The JobPath scheme might not have succeeded in providing any employment for them. I do not understand the logic and I need something more detailed to get my head around it.
Ms Kathleen Stack:
It was a range of questions and we will take them between us if that is okay. On the question about people over 62, we have reviewed the scheme and it is with the Minister currently. She is giving it thought and we met her yesterday. I would expect some outcome on that fairly soon. We certainly hope it will continue as it has proven worthwhile. We will have an outcome on that fairly soon.
JobPath is the Government activation service and approximately 130,000 people have been referred to it. It is a two-phase process, so in the first year JobPath providers work with the unemployed person, helping them to try to get a job, and at the end of the 12 months one sees where one is at. There is a second phase where the JobPath provider continues to work with the person if he or she gets a job and supports the person in employment. Having said that, there are 30,000 people who have come back from JobPath in recent months and completed the first year. I mentioned that in the opening statement. We are certainly targeting those in filling community employment vacancies. They are a cohort we look at. When somebody leaves JobPath, there is an exit plan that can highlight particular difficulties, such as the need for further training or other matters. We are trying to match JobPath returnees with CE vacancies. I will let Ms Shanley speak to the training, which is very much part of the activation process. It relates to areas such as child care and social care, where there is recognised and industry-level training that improves a person's chances of employment in the open labour market.
We have probably done well to have kept number of participants where they are in light of a declining live register. If they are the same now as they were five years ago, it is positive and it should be recognised that we did well in that regard. We have approximately 20% of the long-term unemployed - those unemployed for more than 12 months - on community employment schemes.
Five years ago it was at about 11% and so it has worked. As I mentioned in my opening statement the changes only kicked in from July and we are still working through them. They are certainly helping in increasing the pool of people available for CE places.
I will ask Ms Shanley to talk about training.
Ms Deirdre Shanley:
Deputy O'Dea asked about the training on community employment, which is a very valuable aspect of the overall programme. Last year about €6 million was spent on procured training on community employment. However, that really understates the value of training received because many community employment participants receive free training from the ETBs in their local areas.
The training is available to both strands of activation and social inclusion. Someone in a place that is deemed to be social inclusion can still avail of the training. We encourage all participants on community employment to engage in training and progress irrespective of the strand they are in. The activation strands may be more focused on the QQI framework and training that leads to qualifications in FETAC or HETAC awards, whereas some of the social-inclusion-type training may be more industry related or to do with health and safety, but still very valuable to the participants who receive it. On average in any year about 20,000 FETAC or HETAC components or awards are achieved by participants in community employment. Some participants might do one or two modules of a HETAC or FETAC course, but in addition there are a substantial number of components outside the NFQ. Almost 22,000 in 2015 were related to health and safety, manual handling, etc. All participants on community employment receive some level of training. All of it is very valuable in their outcomes and progression.
As I mentioned it is available to both the activation and social inclusion strands, but the people pursuing the activation-type roles would engage in more QQI modules or achieving actual full awards, maybe a major award at level 5 in child care or level 6.
The over-62 pilot is still available to people who are over 62 even though it is under review.
Mr. Jim Lynch:
It is a very strong focus for us at present. We are trying to ensure that there is an available intervention for people coming back from JobPath, the JobPath returners as we term them. The interventions we see as most suitable would be Tús and CE. We find that they often come back very enthusiastic about undergoing training because the year on JobPath, while it might not have yielded them a job, has given them a certain motivation. They are coming back to us probably more motivated from the point of view of trying to access something.
Our case officers work strongly with sponsors. We organise job fairs from time to time to try to get people back into community employment. I know Deputy Carey has just left us. We did one in Tulla the other day where we called in 140 people who might be eligible for CE. We had the sponsors in the same room as them and had our community officers selling the CE as a programme. We are engaging with people on a local level. If committee members have any problems in their particular areas, they should engage with the community development officers and the Intreo area managers to see if they can do something for them in the area because it is useful.
We have also done one in Newcastle West, County Limerick, and have done one in Limerick as part of our recent jobs week. We found it very useful. It also provides a network for the sponsors to talk to each other and provides interaction between our CDOs and our sponsors so that we can see the real issues on the ground. There is that informal piece that works behind the scenes from the point of view of targeting people. We find it works quite well. If there is anything committee members want us to do on an individual level in any particular division, they should come back to us and contact the area managers or division managers. We will be more than happy to engage with committee members if there are particular problems.
Deputy O'Dea will be very familiar with that corridor up around areas such as Killaloe and Ogonnelloe, a very prosperous area, and O'Briensbridge. We have particular problems trying to fill those because there is a local issue of being close to a good labour market in Limerick. There is a job available for anyone who is employable and many of them are taking those jobs. It is a positive sign in that they are not looking for CE because they are taking a regular nine-to-five job. We have other problems in west Clare, rural Limerick and some of the other areas where transport would be an issue for people getting to the labour market. We find CE fills a very useful function there.
I thank the witnesses for attending. Community employment is certainly a scheme that works and rarely gives rise to complaints. The biggest complaint I get is the difficulties in accessing it, particularly in relation to JobPath. It does Trojan work in communities the length and breadth of the State. It throws open many challenges for the State. People on CE schemes are doing work that should be full-time employment offered by local authorities and other agencies across the State. Certainly it is a scheme that works.
However, it is not without its challenges from the point of view of supervisors and potential participants. Ms Stack's opening statement indicates that the reduction in unemployment levels is obviously a challenge. She also referred to other schemes such as JobPath. Having nearly 130,000 long-term unemployed - I would question as to whether some of them are long-term unemployed in the first place - referred to JobPath must have huge repercussions on CE schemes. Certainly CE supervisors are telling me that people are locked into JobPath for a 12-month contract and cannot transfer over, which is a serious problem.
Ms Stack referred to the 30,000 JobPath returnees, many of whom have a huge appetite to access training. What kind of vetting process is carried out at the first stage in the Intreo offices when referrals are being made to JobPath? What is the best route for those jobseekers to take? Is it JobPath or should it be on to CE? I hear many stories from JobPath participants spending 12 months locked into a contract with no proper training provided with people often put sitting in front of a computer week-in week-out told to go find themselves a job. That is the height of the training and is a huge problem. I ask the witnesses to give their views on that.
Ms Stack said that the same number of people on CE schemes is the same as it was in 2012. She said that 22,400 places would be available this year. That is the limit and there is another figure of 21,000. Would I be right in saying there is a deficit there of 1,400?
Supervisors have a serious issue with their entitlement to pensions. I believe the WRC made a ruling on pensions for supervisors and assistant supervisors. What work is the Department doing to address that?
I believe JobPath is having a very detrimental impact. Does the Department view the training within JobPath as being satisfactory?
I have not met anyone who has voluntarily participated in JobPath. I have met many people who would do anything to get on a community employment scheme because of the training that is provided in such schemes. I have yet to meet anyone who believes the level of training offered through the JobPath scheme is of a high standard. It is a brilliant scheme, but it needs to be tweaked. It is clear that there are issues with it. I ask the witnesses to respond to some of the points I have made.
Ms Kathleen Stack:
We will answer the Deputy's questions between us. I think everybody agrees that community employment does a great deal of work around the country. It sustains a significant amount of community and voluntary work across Ireland. It has to be protected and we are all very keen to ensure that happens. We recognise that there have been difficulties in filling vacancies in recent times. Many changes were introduced in July to broaden the pool of people who can get called. Age limits were reduced, for example.
I understand the Deputy's criticisms of JobPath. I am not here to defend it. I suppose I would I say I do not agree with him. I suggest one has to differentiate between the aim of JobPath, which is to create sustainable full-time jobs, and the aim of community employment, which is to create temporary part-time jobs. At a time when the number of job vacancies in our economy is increasing all the time, our focus should be on sustainable full-time employment. We need to be clear about that. My colleague, Mr. Lynch, will talk about how the JobPath vetting process works.
The Government-approved upper limit for community employment is 22,400. The figure for all the schemes is 32,000. We are working towards the 22,400 target. I would prefer to be in the position of trying to work towards the target than trying to work back from it. As I said to Deputy O'Dea, it is positive that we have managed to maintain the numbers roughly at the level they were five years ago, especially in light of all the changes that have taken place in the economy in the meantime.
The pensions issue has been ongoing for quite a while. As the Deputy is probably aware, a high-level group chaired by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has been doing a great deal of work in this space. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is represented on it, as are a number of unions. I understand that the next meeting of the group will take place on 23 November. My understanding is that some decisions are likely to be made at that point. It is not within our remit to say "Yes" or "No" on this issue. I know the Deputy participated in a recent Dáil debate on it.
Mr. Jim Lynch:
I will talk about the selection process because it is probably more appropriate to my side of the business. The Deputy probably has a good degree of knowledge of the Intreo service. I will go back a level. When people come to us to sign on in the first instance, they are probably at a very vulnerable time in their lives. We sign them on and try to process their payments as quickly as possible. The first interaction that such a person has with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is with a departmental case officer. Most of those who are selected for JobPath will have gone through a process that involved a year-long intervention with a case officer. As part of the Intreo process, the case officer initially agrees a personal progression plan with the person in question based on what he or she wants out of life or for the future.
The first year is geared towards achieving what is in the personal progression plan. This could include participation in the back to work enterprise allowance scheme or the back to education allowance scheme. A person who falls into such an activation stream will not be selected for a Job Path referral because he or she will be in a longer-term process. Equally, we can refer people to the local employment service. If someone is with the local employment service, he or she is not available to be called for JobPath. It is only after someone has been interacting with a case officer for 12, 15 or 18 months that he or she is selected for a JobPath referral. At this point, the person in question becomes eligible for selection for JobPath, which is done purely on a random basis. We do not have any control over whether somebody should be referred. Participants are selected on a random basis. After they have been with the JobPath provider for a year or a year and a quarter, they come back to us as part of our activation process. At that point, they can be referred to something like community employment or Tús.
We all hear criticisms of JobPath from time to time, but we never hear about the positive outcomes for the people who were helped by JobPath and got jobs as a result. There have been criticisms of the training that people receive from JobPath providers. As Ms Stack has said, we administer the scheme but we are not the JobPath providers. The training that is delivered is sometimes of a different type from the training we are historically used to. Much of it would be interactive and might involve electronic training. It is possible that some jobseekers are not used to such initiatives or approaches. We have to get used to these changing processes. Our experience of JobPath on the ground has been that people come back to us with a clearer focus on what they want to do. They are often focused on community employment. As Deputy Brady and others will appreciate, when people come to us they are sometimes looking for motivation to get out of the bed in the morning. It is good that they want to have something to do. I hope that answers the Deputy's question.
Unfortunately, I will not be able to able to stay for the responses to my questions. I thank the officials for coming in to discuss this interesting topic. We all know how successful the community employment schemes have been in our constituencies and nationally. I am glad to hear about the amnesty or disregard that will allow more people who have previously participated in community employment to do so again. I previously dealt with a case in which a community employment scheme was coming to an end because the term was finishing. Those involved were very disappointed that they could not continue on after their term expired. This shows how successful these schemes have been.
I would like to raise another issue briefly. When people are forced to retire at the age of 65, they have to sign on for a year until they receive their pensions at the age of 66. Would it be possible to help to fill this space by allowing people in these circumstances to avail of community employment schemes? I am thinking particularly of part-time schemes that involve community participation. I do not know whether there is a role for community employment in this area.
They will not get into a community employment scheme. Would the Department consider a change that would make them eligible and allow them to apply? Many people who have worked throughout their lives find it very demeaning suddenly to be expected to sign on the dole at the age of 65 as a result of the decision to extend the pension age to 66.
It is also a question of community cohesiveness. Most of these schemes are really in the community. We have a great deal of interaction with people on community employment schemes because they are involved in projects we are working with. This could be a good idea in terms of greater value for the community.
Ms Deirdre Shanley:
We have not seen a lot of demand. People have not been approaching the Department. I do not know whether this has been happening at local level. Maybe Mr. Lynch can tell the committee whether people in this category express interest in community employment when they are signing on.
I suggest the first preference of people who have to sign on, having being forced out of employment due to the nature of their contracts, would have been to stay on in their employment. That would certainly be preferable to being forced onto a community employment scheme. The fix that is probably needed in this respect probably involves banning mandatory retirement.
I thank the officials for attending today's meeting. Mr. Lynch has said that people who are on the back to work and back to education schemes are not put on the JobPath scheme. While participants in the JobPath scheme will not be referred to community employment schemes because they are allowed to participate in just one activation scheme or service at a time, I understand that customers who, on the date of their referral to JobPath, have written offers with starting dates within four weeks will be facilitated. Why can people participate in one activation scheme only? Both JobPath and community employment are activation schemes, to a certain degree. They provide training to people in the hope that they will go on to get a job. What is the barrier in this regard? Surely we should be more flexible.
If a person on JobPath is not happy on that programme and after six months there is a potential place on a community employment scheme, can we not be more flexible and say that is okay?
Ms Kathleen Stack:
At present, the JobPath service is structured in phases, and the first phase is for a duration of 12 months. The unemployed person is committing himself or herself to work with the person assigned to him or her by the JobPath company for a period of 12 months. That person works with the unemployed person and helps him or her by providing practical help and advice. Is Deputy Collins suggesting that the unemployed person should be able to do both, that is, to be on a community employment scheme and at the same time partake in a JobPath programme?
Mr. Lynch stated the case officer works with the person up to the point where he or she gets a place on JobPath. However, for example, should the person feel he or she is not getting decent training or that the course is not delivering for him or her and the case officer says there is a community scheme in the offing, why can the person not change?
Mr. Jim Lynch:
I see the Deputy's point, but the JobPath provider has a certain programme, and to interrupt that programme midway would not give the JobPath provider or the customer the best value for money from the point of view of the investment that has been made in them. The JobPath provider also works like a case officer. He or she agrees a personal individual progression plan at the start and this is what both work towards for the year. The individual will have different milestones along the year, and to cut out of the programme when he or she had achieved so much on that road would not be the best way to do business.
If the case officer can see after six or eight months that the programme is not working out for the individual, that the person is not getting what was expected to be achieved, and that a place on a community scheme is in the offing-----
Mr. Jim Lynch:
The balance is to try to allow the JobPath provider enough time to work with the individual to get the best outcome. On balance, it is thought that one year or one and a quarter years is the best. We do from time to time agree with the JobPath provider to halt the programme if the JobPath provider comes up with a training intervention. It is not to say there is no training on JobPath, but if the JobPath case worker knows of other training that will help the individual get a job immediately or very soon, the JobPath provider will agree with that training being provided.
Ms Kathleen Stack:
I wish to add, and members may be aware of this, that the Department publishes on its website the results of the JobPath programme every quarter. I wish put on record that the most recent report shows that 19% of jobseekers who engaged with JobPath between July 2015 and March 2016 entered full-time employment. When the clients who were engaged in part-time employment and self-employment are added in, that figure rises to 26%. We can send the committee the link to the website if that would be helpful.
I wish to raise a general issue. I have been around long enough to have seen community employment in different Departments and in different guises. The community employment scheme has always managed to evolve somewhat to meet the situation of the day. It has been around in times of virtually full employment and at times of exceptionally high unemployment.
Ms Stack hit the nail on the head in her opening statement when she referred to the value of the scheme to communities as well as the training and education to the individual participants. The feedback I am getting at present is that it is becoming more challenging for the community groups than for the participants. A couple of issues come to mind. For groups that might be relatively small, a significant change of personnel arises when the existing participants come to the end of their period on the scheme. This means there is no shared learning or shared experience of being on the job and this gives rise to concerns when there are no immediate replacements. As we are now reaching the point of higher employment levels, there needs to be greater flexibility to ensure that the perspective of the operators of the schemes are considered. They could have a period of a month when they are missing one or two participants because they cannot recruit, and that needs to be examined.
Ms Stack specifically stated that the contracts are for a period of one year, except in the case where people are doing major awards, where it can be two or three years. I would like Ms Stack to examine a different element, in particular in areas of significant economic disadvantage. I think people from most disadvantaged areas who get on those schemes need more than one year. In many cases, many families in the community have experienced intergenerational unemployment. The level of support they need is probably greater. Having broken the cycle to get on a scheme, a year may not be long enough and in the course of the first year they may not have entered an educational scheme where they are going for a major award. It may take them longer to make that level of progression, but ultimately they might enter the education system. In areas of significant levels of economic disadvantage, where employment prospects in their geographic vicinity are not that good, we need to look at the adequacy of the scheme to meet their needs. I specifically ask Ms Stack to consider a longer run-in without the educational requirement being upfront because in many cases they will not have the capacity to meet the educational requirement in the initial stages.
Ms Kathleen Stack:
The point has been made that, by their whole nature, community employment schemes evolve. At the end of my opening statement I said that community employment is a unique scheme. It is peculiar in the sense that one could argue that the motivation for the sponsors is different from the motivation for the individuals and sometimes that is a marriage that might be hard to sustain. What the community group and the sponsor are trying to do is to deliver a service to the best of their ability and at a satisfactory level, and they are trying to keep people as long as they can to keep the service on the go. The perspective of an activation authority such as the Department is to try to train up the individual and move them on in order that they can progress to a job. There are almost competing aims and objectives in the scheme. That said, we all acknowledge the significant role that community employment plays in a range of areas throughout the country, for example, from the local GAA pitch, child care, social care and elderly care. It is a challenge. We have long debated in the Department the appropriate length of time to remain on a scheme, be it one, two or three years. What we came up with reflects a lot of what the OECD and other bodies would say, that programmes such as community employment have a major role to play when there is a downturn in the economy and a recession, but that these numbers should be reduced and the period that people stay on them should be a lot shorter when the economy is getting better. We arrived at a duration of one year as being the best balance we could get in terms of what we are about. We have a facility to extend it to two or three years, and my colleague, Ms Shanley, will say a little bit more about that.
I accept the Chairman's point on areas of significant disadvantage, and we can have a look at that. It is coming back to segregation. The people involved in activation are closer to the labour market and are able to progress that little bit faster, whereas people in the social inclusion area take a bit longer. They are probably out of the school and training system for a longer period and it can take them longer. I take on board the Deputy's point on that issue. We try, in so far as we can, to fill vacancies on community employment schemes and to provide replacements as quickly as possible. However, our capacity to do so is determined by who is on the live register in a local area. For example, places on a child care scheme tend by their nature to appeal to younger people. If those on the live register are all aged 50 or over, they may not be that interested. Sometimes it is a case of the supply not matching the demand. That has to be managed in a local area. My colleague, Ms Shanley, will comment.
Ms Deirdre Shanley:
I will pick up on Ms Stack's final comment. In the context of some of the vacancies being filled, the local community development officers would work with the scheme when the person leaving has a particular skill set and a period of overlap is needed to train in the new person. I know divisions are very flexible around that and try to accommodate a few weeks of overlap at the end of a person's contract.
With respect to the length of time somebody can stay on a scheme, we have opened it up for participants from 21 years of age. For participants aged between 21 and 55, the standard duration will be one year. For participants aged over 55, they can stay on it for three years. For participants aged over 65, there is no obligation to engage in training or education to stay on it for three years. For those participants aged between 21 and 55, we will extend them into a second or third year if they are pursuing education or training leading towards a major award, but that may be a module at level 3, which is a very basic level of education, and it could be just one module in the first year. The aim is to encourage people at that age who have education or training needs to get onto that ladder.
If somebody comes along with literacy or numeracy difficulties and cannot access education or training, we will also extend those people into a second or third year provided they are doing something that is recognised that will address their literacy difficulties. They do not need to be pursuing a Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, level 5 course, because that is not accessible to everybody, to be extended into the second year. We require that they would be on a suitable pathway for their level to address their training or education needs. If they have a very low level of education and no formal qualifications, they may pursue a basic learning module at level 3. That is recognised and, in those circumstances, people can be extended into a second or a third year. This is all to guide them towards coming out at the end their period on the scheme with some training or education that will help them access employment.
Yes, for JobPath and with respect to where people are to go. I take on board what was said about the process of the year lead-up to that. Many people have called to my constituency offices, and the same applies to other Deputies, who have told me they want to participate on community employment schemes. They have identified that themselves, whether it be to get a QQI qualification or to work within their community, to have those supports around them or to have direct involvement in the workplace. JobPath does not provide that for people. It does not give people the opportunity to do that. People know their own deficits and what they would like to do. However, the difficulty is, and this has been said to me by personal advisers within JobPath, that the referral of people to JobPath is not necessarily a random selection process. How exactly does that process work? I am told it is nearly a form of punishment. People are being referred to JobPath and told that no other options are being made available to them. I would like one of the witnesses to answer in that respect. People are then locked into that process for 12 months, knowing that they will not get the education or training they have identified that they need. We have seen that with 30,000 people coming through that process and many of them wanting to participate on community employment schemes. That is the crux of the problem. People are being forced to go on JobPath. I would question that it is voluntary, and that is one of the difficulties. Once people are referred to it, the big push is to get them to sign the contract on the dotted line. There is pressure not to let the person out until he or she signs the contract, and then they are locked into that for 12 months with no opportunities available to them. As one of the Deputies said, they are on JobPath for 12 months and they do not have the opportunity after one or two months to move to a community employment scheme or some other scheme that would be more beneficial to them.
Mr. Jim Lynch:
It is definitely not a form of penalty. I can honestly say that we do not have any input into the selection process. It is a computerised random selection. I can guarantee the Deputy, with respect to anybody who is selected for JobPath, that we do not say we will select people listed one, two and three and that we will not select those listed four and five. Those selected come through the computerised process. We have a very clear and transparent process, but it is a random computerised process, if that makes sense.
There are may benefits from JobPath from the point of view, as Ms Stack said, of the number of people who can get work after it. As I said, the JobPath provider or adviser forms a process of where the person will be at the end of the year. Sometimes the person gets there after three months, six months or nine months, and when they get to the end of the process, the best outcome for the person might be to go to a community employment scheme but it might have been that the journey involved the six or nine months it took to get there.
It could be argued that somebody should be able voluntarily to come off JobPath if he or she wants to do so, but there is a significant investment from the JobPath provider and in the training and the engaging process. To give that process the best opportunity to work , we would say that it requires a person to be in the process for a year. The Deputy and I would probably differ on that point. I think I have covered all the aspects raised. I want to be definite on this point. It is a random computerised selection at the end of the week.
Ms Kathleen Stack:
I would add that this is about trying to get somebody a full-time, sustainable job. When they start the process, they may think that they are not ready for that, but perhaps at the end of the 12 months they will be. Many people who are randomly selected may not have engaged in any activation process in recent times. It may take some people a period of time to get to that level in terms of their expectations of what they think they can achieve.