Tuesday, 2 December 2008
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for permission to raise this matter and the Minister of State, Deputy Devins, for coming in to deal with it.
I wish to raise the serious position of the 1,000 to 1,200 apprentices who have been made redundant. I do not know the exact number — perhaps the Minister of State has it in his brief but it is of that order — but the careers of these apprentices, who are awaiting their final certification, have been cut short mainly because of the economic downturn.
This problem knows no county border. It has occurred throughout the Twenty-six Counties. Young men, and some young women, set out on their careers as apprentice bricklayers, carpenters, electricians etc. through which they would get final certification. Once they had this certification they could travel the world and get a position because our certificates are recognised and approved by the European Union and further afield.
When we spoke here about a month ago on a similar motion on unemployment in general, I was under the impression that a scheme was just about to be put in place. However, a month has gone by and over the past two to three weeks many parents have come to see me about their sons — sometimes about their daughters — whose careers have been cruelly cut short because the construction or electrical firm to which they were apprenticed has folded. Through no fault of their own, the careers and training of these young apprentices have been cut short mid-stream and they are left with nothing, despite having completed up to three years' training.
I appeal for the scheme to be altered. The rules should be changed to allow the redundant apprentices continue their training. The State should in some way subsidise employers to keep those young people on their books and in all instances keep the training going so that the young apprentices would be in a position to go abroad with their qualifications, if they so wish. Many wish to go to Australia and if they had qualifications, they would get a job. However, if they go half-baked, they will not get one. It is important that the necessary subsidies or resources are provided to employers to retain apprentices so that they can finish their training.
Another aspect to this matter is that the strict rules of the system must change. Back in the early 1990s, the then Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, and I brought in the new apprenticeship system which worked well in times of plenty. However, in times of downturn, it is not working because the young guy or girl is put out of his or her training and made redundant with nowhere to turn. I rest my case.
Jimmy Devins (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Sligo-North Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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The House will be well aware that the construction sector has continued to experience a reduction in the level of activity in 2008 compared to previous years. In the recent past, there has been a consequential reduction in the level of employment in the sector.
The level of recruitment of apprentices by employers is also at a lower level — some 44% lower than in 2007 — and there has been an increase in the number of apprentices notified to FÁS as redundant. The current apprenticeship population is 26,479. Of these, 2,859 are recorded as redundant on foot of notification to FÁS.
In response to these trends the Tánaiste and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment have been working with FÁS to put in place a number of measures in an effort to address the problems now confronting redundant apprentices, and especially those in the construction trades.
The measures developed to date will alleviate the situation and include the following. Through its employment services offices, FÁS is providing individual supports to redundant apprentices in their efforts to get work that will allow them to complete their apprenticeship with an approved employer. In the absence of options for workplace experience, redundant apprentices are also now being scheduled early for their off-the-job training phase in the education sector. This means that they do not need to do their on-the-job phase and can go directly to the next off-the-job phase. Accordingly, there are currently 123 redundant apprentices attending phase 2 and 316 are attending phases 4 and 6. FÁS has scheduled another 505 redundant apprentices to attend their off-the-job training phase over the next number of weeks.
Working with FÁS and other interests, the Tánaiste is in the process of finalising another initiative that should be of material benefit to apprentices in construction trades. The key objective will be to assist such apprentices to complete their in-work training and assessment with employers so that they can move forward in their apprenticeships. The scheme, the full details of which will be announced in the near future, will involve incentives for qualified employers to take on such apprentices over the next 12 months. We are hopeful that in the order of 500 apprentices can be helped in this way.
FÁS is also looking at the advantages that EU sponsored programmes that facilitate mobility for workers and apprentices can offer. In line with the thrust of these programmes, there are possibilities for temporary placements abroad that could be of real benefit to redundant apprentices. Separately, we will explore what other positive options might be available to assist our redundant apprentices in the short to medium term.
FÁS is responding quickly and with flexibility to the challenge of redundant apprentices and there will be a significant announcement on this in the near future.