Thursday, 14 January 2021
Covid-19 (Higher Education): Statements
I am grateful for the opportunity to provide Deputies with an update on further education and training during this level 5 phase of the Covid-19 pandemic and I look forward to taking any questions colleagues may have.
As the Minister, Deputy Harris, said, further education and training providers are responding to the recent deterioration in the Covid-19 situation. They are adapting and using their discretion to restrict on-site attendance further, only allowing the most essential work to take place on-site.
I am pleased that SOLAS and Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI, have issued specific guidance to providers regarding the delivery of further education and training and craft apprenticeship programmes for January. Programmes and apprenticeships will be delivered almost entirely online during this time.
Statutory safety training in the construction sector, delivered under the construction skills certification scheme and the Safe Pass programme, has been paused during January. It is important, however, to state that regulations enabling the period of expiring cards to be extended continue to apply. For apprentices, the impacts experienced have depended on the sector, with significant impact being experienced by apprentices in the hospitality and aviation sectors. Training has largely continued for those apprentices employed in office-based roles, such as in finance and ICT, with off-the-job training moving mostly online.
Off-the-job training for apprentices stopped between March and September. Assessments, however, were completed remotely for this group as much as was possible. In light of the current difficult and worrying public health situation, all apprentice training moved online on 11 January. This is being achieved by the theory aspects of craft apprenticeships being front-loaded for delivery in January. I acknowledge, of course, that the ability of individual apprenticeships to facilitate remote delivery is dependent on their particular characteristics, with programmes such as brick- and stone-laying facing particular difficulties.
Off-the-job training has moved online where possible and more than 2,000 craft apprentices were assessed remotely for the first time during the summer. Some €12 million has been provided in the budget to support additional places. That will mitigate the effect of smaller apprenticeship class sizes and allow the loss of provision in 2020 to be made up. Long-term funding and support measures will be considered in the context of the new action plan for apprenticeships, which will be completed shortly. SOLAS is continuing to work with education and training providers to identify areas where craft apprenticeship programmes can be delivered through blended learning and to address the impact of the move to remote delivery for January. This will support the continuation of off-the-job training delivery during public health restrictions in the future, as well as potentially ameliorating the impact of Covid-19 on waiting lists for access to off-the-job training.
I turn now to the apprenticeship incentivisation scheme, which is financed under the July stimulus jobs package. It provides a €3,000 grant to the employer which is payable over two years for each apprentice registered between 1 March 2020 and 31 December 2020. By the end of last month, some 1,358 employers had submitted claims in respect of 2,350 apprentices. Budget 2021 extended the scheme to include apprentices registered up to the end of June 2021. This is expected to promote the registration of approximately 4,000 apprentices in the first six months of 2021. The incentive has helped to maintain activity in the sector during this period of difficulty, and provides a good basis for meeting the ambitious targets set in the programme for Government for the upcoming action plan.
Some 2,511 apprentices were registered between September and the end of November, which comprised 52% of total registrations for the year. The action plan will set out to place apprenticeships at the centre of the education and training system, increase the attractiveness of the programme to employers and learners of all ages and ensure that the apprentice population is reflective of the general workforce in respect of diversity as well. I know we will have the support of the House in advancing these plans and I look forward to keeping my Oireachtas colleagues updated and answering any questions which Deputies may have.