Tuesday, 17 November 2015
National Internship Scheme Administration
66. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection her views on the JobBridge scheme; if she envisages any amendment or change to the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40068/15]
JobBridge is a national scheme which was introduced in July 2011 in response to the unprecedented collapse in the economy, particularly the sharp increase in unemployment. As the Deputy will remember, we were heading to have nearly 500,000 people unemployed and an unemployment rate from the live register of 15.1%. Thankfully, the figures today are much more positive and moving in the right direction. It was announced today that the unemployment rate had reduced to 8.9%, dipping below 9% for the first time, something Members opposite said on many occasions we would not see in the lifetime of this Dáil, but we have. This is very much down to the Government targeting a job-led recovery.
The primary aim of the scheme is to give unemployed people the opportunity to secure work experience and then to access work. It comes down to the old saying, it is necessary to break the cycle whereby one cannot get a job without work experience but one cannot get experience without a job. So many young people and others who lost their jobs during the recession have said constantly to me that they could not get back to work unless they could get experience. JobBridge has allowed that to happen.
To date, the scheme has attracted the voluntary participation of more than 44,000 people. It is very much voluntary participation. A total of 18,000 host organisations are involved on a voluntary basis. They offered a wide range of work experience opportunities. Currently, there are more than 4,800 people on internships. Approximately 36% of participants progress into paid employment immediately on completion of their placement. The independent evaluation of JobBridge by Indecon found that the figure rises to more than 61% within five months of completion of an internship. Those progression outcomes are the highest of any general employment or training programme offered by the State and compare favourably with similar programmes in other countries.
I will just finish on this point, in fairness to Deputy O'Dea. We are tendering for an evaluation process. The tenders have gone out and we hope to have an evaluation process in place early in the new year.
I do not deny there have been some positive outcomes to the JobBridge programme but that should not blind us to the fact that there are certain defects in it. Is the Minister of State aware of the report issued by the National Youth Council of Ireland last February following an extensive survey, which found instances of poorly designed internships, inadequate monitoring, unacceptable treatment of interns, lack of clarity regarding the rights of participants and insufficient monitoring? I do not say that applies to every individual on a JobBridge scheme but those problems have manifested themselves and the National Youth Council of Ireland decided to refer to them in its report and called for measures to alleviate them. Is the Minister of State aware of the report which highlights those particular problems and will the problems be part of the review he has initiated?
JobBridge has been a very successful programme, both for the participants and small and medium enterprises, SMEs. The closing date for the receipt of tenders was 19 October 2015 and the tender evaluation process has been completed. The Department has notified the preferred tenderer and in accordance with procurement guidelines is now observing the mandatory 14 days standstill period before the contract can be formally awarded. It is anticipated that the project will formally commence on 24 November and it will comprise a comprehensive qualitative assessment of host organisations and participants' perspective on the quality and future of JobBridge, including the one-to-one case studies.
I have met many of the groups that have issued reports and they also had positive feedback as well as negative. That is why it is so important that an evaluation is done in order that we can proceed on the basis of evidence. I expect to have the evaluation completed early in the new year and then we can have a proper conversation on how we can improve and progress the process.
Is the Minister of State aware of the report by Impact published last April which suggested the JobBridge scheme in its present format should be discontinued and replaced by a different type of scheme? It was suggested that it would be sub-divided into three different internship programmes aimed, respectively, at youth, graduates and long-term unemployed. Do the terms of reference of the evaluation body considering JobBridge at the moment allow for that?
The Government is trying to conduct evidence-based evaluations. Many schemes have been exceptionally successful across the country such as the JobsPlus element for the long-term unemployed. Moreover, it has been successful in the Deputy's native county where 60% of those involved in JobsPlus have been long-term unemployed. There has been a suite of measures in this regard and the Government is endeavouring to examine each scheme and then, with an evidence-based programme, consider what changes might be needed or improvements made. I launched one of the reports to which the Deputy referred and certainly had many discussions and conversations. All of the reports, of course, will have an influence and will be taken into consideration in the evaluation, as is only right.