Dáil debates

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Other Questions

FÁS Training Programmes.

4:00 pm

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Question 10: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment whether his Department has a strategy in respect of the training bodies, such as FÁS, to respond to the downturn in the construction industry; his views on the effects this downturn is having on their existing training courses and apprenticeship programmes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4126/08]

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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To respond to the changing circumstances in the construction sector, the FÁS board established a subgroup last year to look at the impact of FÁS construction programmes on the changes in employment trends in the construction sector. The subgroup has been examining this issue as a matter of priority and is in the process of completing detailed research at present. It is expected the subgroup shortly will present its interim report with recommendations to the FÁS board.

New house construction is a labour-intensive sector and the latest data show some decline in the level of employment in the construction sector during the second half of last year. For the year as a whole, Ireland's unemployment rate averaged 4.5% as had been forecast. Approximately 48,000 houses will be built in 2008. However in the longer term, forecasts suggest a continued strong need for building craftspersons. Forecasts published by FÁS in conjunction with the Economic and Social Research Institute in August last year predicted that 90,000 to 100,000 skilled building workers would be employed in 2012, compared to a total of 85,000 in 2005. The subgroup also has consulted widely, both internally and externally, including such bodies as the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Construction Industry Federation and the institutes of technology.

The number of new apprentices recruited into the building industry declined in 2007. However in the longer term, forecasts suggest a continued strong need for building craftspersons. The subgroup is of the opinion that any downturn in apprenticeship registrations should open up opportunities to improve the skills of existing craftspeople and low-skilled construction workers in other areas.

At present FÁS, through its employment services, also is engaged in identifying any redundant craftspeople and apprentices and providing focused supports to them. FÁS also is in discussion with the CIF to identify possible courses for redundant craftspersons in the so-called wet trades, such as for example, listed building restoration skills, stoneworking etc. Moreover, there is active engagement with the unemployed after three months on the live register to assist them make progress towards employment, training or active labour market programmes.

The normal full range of FÁS services of course also is available. In the delivery of such services, FÁS liaises with other relevant agencies such as Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, the city and county enterprise boards and the Department of Social and Family Affairs. FÁS also works closely with the agencies to identify and support individuals who wish to start their own businesses.

Over the period of the National Development Plan 2007-2013, the Government will invest €7.7 billion in public funds to support training and skills development. This is a significant increase when compared with the level of spending over the previous seven-year period. The current level of investment reflects the importance the Government attaches to maintaining an educated, skilled and adaptable workforce in Ireland.

The Government also is committed to implementing the national skills strategy and soon will initiate an implementation process.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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Earlier in the debate, the Minister of State referred to the long-anticipated downturn in construction activity as a correction. As someone who probably will enter negative equity by next summer, it feels like somewhat more than a correction to me, as well as to many people of my generation.

FÁS has 28,500 apprentices at present, 90% of whom are being trained for construction jobs. As the Minister of State has noted, the downturn in construction was anticipated. In such circumstances, would it not have been appropriate for FÁS to have begun to shift away much sooner from construction apprenticeships to other areas in which skill gaps exist, such as HGV drivers etc.? Would it not have been appropriate for the Department to offer FÁS advice to that effect?

Most importantly, quite a number of these apprentices will probably lose their jobs halfway through their training. What measures will be put in place to ensure that those affected either have the opportunity to undergo alternative training or can somehow complete their training, even if a job is not available to them at the time?

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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Auctioneers and others in the estate agent business have told me in recent weeks that there is renewed interest and that people are looking at houses. I can only speak for the Cork region, where house prices are not heading into the territory of negative equity.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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It depends on when one bought a house.

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 refer even to those who bought a couple of years ago. Perhaps Dublin is slightly different but this is not the case in the rest of the country.

As for FÁS, the number of new apprentices in 2006 was 7,681 while the corresponding figure for 2007 was 6,288, or approximately 1,400 to 1,500 fewer apprentices. However, craftspeople will be needed in the years ahead and it is predicted that in a few years' time, in 2012, 90,000 to 100,000 skilled building workers will be needed. There are 85,000 such workers at present. Consequently, if we do not continue to train apprentices we will lack the required number of skilled personnel in the years ahead.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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Will apprentices who lose their jobs still receive training?

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 apologise but I did not hear the question.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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A large number of apprentices will lose their jobs halfway through their training. Will FÁS facilitate the completion of their training?

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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My recollection is that during the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the building industry experienced a major downturn, apprentices were able to complete their training. This was facilitated through AnCO and its successor, FÁS. I do not know whether the policy will change. I will raise the matter with the Minister to facilitate a reply to the Deputy.