Dáil debates

Thursday, 7 February 2008

4:00 pm

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Question 7: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps he is taking to meet the target of upskilling 500,000 people as laid out in the national skills strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4198/08]

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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The target of upskilling 500,000 people as laid out in the national skills strategy is a very ambitious target. To achieve this target and realise the vision contained in the national skills strategy will require an integrated approach — led jointly by my Department and the Department of Education and Science — that will successfully involve all of the key agencies in the education and training sectors. That is why an interdepartmental implementation committee comprised of the Minister of State with responsibility for lifelong learning, Deputy Haughey, and the Secretaries General of my Department and the Department of Education and Science will be established in the near future. This committee will approve an implementation plan and oversee progress in respect of the implementation of the national skills strategy.

The expert group on future skills needs has been charged with reporting annually on the progress in implementing the strategy. In addition, the Minister asked it to examine the potential of a number of innovative measures to incentivise both employers and employees to engage more fully in education and training. The measures under review include paid learning leave, individual learning accounts for employees and brokerage services to help firms identify training needs and source suitable training and the potential of regional advisory groups. The expert group's findings in these areas will be considered in the context of developing the implementation plan of the national skills strategy.

This year, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment invest €77 million specifically in training those in employment. This is in addition to the amount that is invested in the apprenticeship systems. The investment to which I refer, representing an increase of €7 million on the 2007 figure, will be used to continue to deliver training to those in employment, with a particular focus on the low skilled in accordance with the objectives in the national skills strategy.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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There is no need to argue about the need for upskilling. Many of the jobs that were lost in recent times were low skilled in nature. The best thing we can do for the people who lost those jobs and those who will lose similar jobs is to deliver on the national skills strategy.

I understand that the aim is to upskill 500,000 people by one qualification people in the next 12 to 13 years. How many of these individuals will be upskilled to that degree this year? The Minister referred to the money that will be invested in upskilling. I was of the view that the bulk of this will go to FÁS and the Skillnets. I contacted FÁS earlier this week and was informed that it will only be able to upskill 30,000 people this year under the One-Step-Up initiative. However, these individuals will not be upskilled by one level.

They may be upskilled by a module, a subdivision of one level. Is the Minister of State happy with that? How many of the 500,000 will be upskilled by one level this year and how will that be done?

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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It is important that there is recognition by all interested parties of an absolute need to upskill the workforce. That is the reason there is a commitment in the National Development Plan 2007-2013 of €7.7 billion to carry out the process. This will happen incrementally through the agencies with the remit for the work. We have evidence of people losing jobs so It is vitally important the upskilling process trains such people in a way that they can apply to existing industries for alternative employment.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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A significant number of jobs have been lost or continue to be under threat. In the context of the importance of the manufacturing sector, particularly upskilling, is FÁS the only agency that will be used? As Deputy Varadkar noted, how will we meet targets if FÁS is constrained by a curtailment of numbers because of the public sector recruitment embargo?

There is no argument that increasing the numbers being upskilled is vital. How will the objectives pan out? How will the €7.7 billion be spent and what agencies will be involved? Is it not time to show some ingenuity, innovation and initiative in this regard to ensure the targets for upskilling, which are fundamental to our long-term well-being, are met? FÁS should be given a wider remit and beefed up so targets can be achieved.

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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An interdepartmental implementation committee will suss out the details of how to implement the funding and plans. There will likely be an examination of existing provisions of education and training to determine the key areas and initiatives requiring additional focus to achieve the objectives of the national skills strategy.

The Deputy asked who will implement this. A group will bring together the Department's key stakeholders in the provision of training, such as FÁS, the important Skillnets, Enterprise Ireland and county enterprise boards. That group is examining a variety of issues, such as the need to increase focus on the provision of training to the low-skilled, accreditation issues, the flexible delivery of training, the recognition of prior learning and capacity issues. These issues will also be key elements of the national skills strategy implementation plan.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I have no doubt about the Minister's capacity and that of the Government to spend billions of euro. The question I asked is simple. How many people does the Minister of State envisage will be upskilled by one level this year? If the Minister of State does not know, will he give a ballpark figure? Is it 10,000 or 20,000? Is there any idea how many people will be upskilled at a time when it is so necessary?

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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I do not have the exact figure.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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Is there a rough idea? Is it 100, 1,000 or 10,000?

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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There is no point in throwing out a figure. I will get the number for the Deputy.