Wednesday, 7 March 2012
Topical Issue Matters
I am raising this matter to ask the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, to allow graduate architects to participate in the JobBridge scheme to fulfil the employment condition in their registration as an architect. The Minister will be aware that to become an architect graduates study for five years and that having successfully completed their study, they must register to use the title "architect". To register, they must first pass a professional examination and then - this is where the difficulty lies - be in paid employment in a professional architectural practice for two years. I need hardly remind the House or the Minister that the construction industry has been decimated since 2008. Of all those hit by the downturn in the industry, the architect profession has been hardest hit. There is almost no design work available and there are few opportunities for young unregistered graduates.
Were graduates to be granted access to the JobBridge scheme they could take up an internship which would, in turn, open the door to their professional examinations which they cannot take unless they have obtained work. Graduate architects are excluded from participation in the JobBridge scheme on the basis that as they have a further examination to take, they are unavailable for employment. However, that is not the case. The Department has, since commencement of the recession, recognised the people concerned as been eligible for unemployment benefit.
I am asking the Minister to allow these graduates the opportunity to complete their qualifications through participation in the JobBridge scheme. There are only about 150 such graduates each year. While the OPW takes some of them on and a limited number find work in the private sector, the only option for the majority is emigration. However, they are not recognised abroad as architects because they have not attained their final qualification. The Minister is aware, having been in the House during the passage of legislation in this regard, that this registration is recognised across Europe. Graduates are required to sit an examination to obtain their qualification, but to do so they must first obtain work. However, under the current JobBridge scheme rules, they cannot get work because they must take an examination. I ask the Minister to review the scheme with a view to facilitating these graduates.
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The objective of JobBridge, the national internship scheme, is to assist individuals bridge the gap between unemployment and the world of work. It provides those seeking employment with an opportunity to undertake a six or nine month internship in a host organisation. Participation in the scheme will assist in breaking the cycle, whereby unemployed persons are unable to obtain a job without experience. On completion of an internship, participants will have improved their prospects of securing employment
The JobBridge scheme was launched on 29 June 2011. In excess of 5,200 jobseekers have commenced internships. There are 2,130 opportunities available across a wide number of sectors. All of these opportunities are advertised on the JobBridge website www.jobbridge.ie.
In the current labour market environment the JobBridge scheme provides individuals with a unique opportunity to secure work experience in a new field. The scheme enables people to break the cycle, whereby unemployed persons are unable to secure a job without experience, either as new entrants to the labour market after education or training or as unemployed workers whose existing skills are not appropriate to the jobs that will emerge in post-recession Ireland. Eligibility to access the scheme is based on the overall objective of labour market policy in ensuring a pathway to appropriate employment, training and education opportunities for those on the live register. It is important that as employment opportunities become available they are taken up by those on the register.
Given the scale of the unemployment crisis, the key objective of labour market policy will be to keep those on the live register close to the labour market and prevent their drift into long-term unemployment. This will ensure live register members availing of activation measures, including the national internship scheme, will, while retaining social welfare unemployment payments and a top-up allowance of €50, receive an opportunity to engage in the workplace to gain work experience and thus be in a position to avail of employment opportunities as the economy improves. For these reasons, eligibility for the scheme is targeted at those on the live register and in receipt of jobseeker payments or signing for credits for at least 78 days of the last six months. In so designing the scheme the policy objective is to prioritise scarce resources for those on the live register to increase their chances of leaving it and ensure a reduction in Exchequer costs overtime.
The scheme is open to host organisations to provide internship opportunities for qualified architects. To date, there are in excess of 20 architect internship posts advertised on the JobBridge website. The Department is reviewing the operation of the JobBridge scheme and its possible extension, including broadening its eligibility criteria. The issue raised by the Deputy will be considered in the context of the review.
I welcome the Minister's response. As stated by her, the purpose of the JobBridge scheme is to bring people closer to employment. However, in this case - it is a bizarre anomaly - it is keeping people from employment. The Government has gone to a lot of trouble to assist young apprentices to finish their apprenticeships and these young graduate architects are in a similar position. As the Minister will be aware, they are limited in number and the OPW provides a number of them with well paid work experience which, in turn, allows them to take their professional examinations. It is welcome that the scheme is being reviewed. In that context, I ask the Minister not to close the door to these graduates. This anomaly makes no sense, as it affects people who have done a great deal of study and have no prospect of gaining employment in this country in the immediate future.
The Department has received requests to participate in the scheme from lone parents and people with disabilities. A general review of the scheme which has proved very popular is being undertaken. Many are anxious to avail of the opportunities advertised on the JobBridge website. I will undertake to have graduate architects who have not formally completed their professional examinations included in the scheme and come back to the Deputy on the matter. It is hoped the review will be completed in a couple of months time.