Thursday, 19 May 2016
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Ireland needs to develop a highly valued apprenticeship path in new areas of opportunity while also meeting the growing demands in certain traditional areas. This approach is central to our ambition to facilitate the growth of modern manufacturing and service sectors. The new programme for Government plans to accelerate the work that was initiated by the previous Government by putting in place a specific plan to realise the ambitious apprenticeship target that has been set. Registrations in the 27 existing apprenticeship trades are increasing following a number of years of decline. The number of registrations has almost doubled since 2012 and now stands at 3,153. There is an expectation that this number will continue to increase as economic activity continues to grow in traditional sectors.
When a comprehensive review of the Irish apprenticeship system was undertaken in December 2013, the key recommendation was the establishment of an apprenticeship council. As Deputies are aware, this happened in November 2014. The council's first task was to issue a call for proposals for new apprenticeships from industry bodies and education and training providers. More than 80 proposals were received, all of which were evaluated against a set of criteria. The council assigned category 1 status to 25 proposals which were deemed to be at an advanced stage of design, planning and collaboration. It is working closely with the groups to develop these proposals into sustainable national apprenticeships. It is envisaged that up to nine of them will be in a position to move to enrolment in 2016, with the remainder being rolled out in 2017. The council is working with those involved with the proposals that were given category 2 status to develop a pipeline of new apprenticeships. The timing of further calls will also be considered. The achievement of these ambitious targets will require commitment from a number of key stakeholders and will depend on strong employer demand. I am confident that we will deliver on our targets and that learners, employers and our economy and society will benefit strongly as a result.
The Minister has outlined the work of the Apprenticeship Council. The programme for Government contains a commitment to doubling the number of apprenticeships and providing a total of 31,000 places by 2020. We sincerely hope that is much more than simply an ambition. I would say it is not enough to set targets. The number of apprenticeships is led by the level of demand from those who want to qualify in certain trades and from the industries that require apprentices. Speaking of industries, are there any plans or prospects for the State and for State bodies to take on apprentices and to offer them apprenticeships? It is certain that there would be demand in various State organisations, such as the Office of Public Works, OPW, for the provision of apprenticeships. Will the Minister comment on that?
Traditionally, apprenticeships were solely demand-led and were confined to the traditional 24 trades. As I said in my initial reply, it is exciting that proposals have been made in respect of 80 new trades by a new batch of employers who are willing to participate. While the roll-out of these proposals will depend on the willingness of employers to take people on, we must also develop the training modules to support them. Partnerships are being forged between various agencies, including education and training boards, private training bodies and institutes of technology, which are developing these programmes. The first batch of 25 programmes will come on stream in the next academic year. We will back that up with a further 35 programmes from category 2. If we can make such a move, I expect that we will double the level of participation in traditional apprenticeships while developing a whole new area of apprenticeship. This will allow us to become more like countries like Germany.
We all admire the way in which the industrial sector there has partnered with the education sector to develop a strong route of apprenticeships which is highly valued. I believe we need to develop such a model here.
That is certainly the direction in which we want to go. As the Minister said, apprenticeships are highly valued.
In terms of the traditional apprenticeships, there are severe shortages at the moment at a time when we do not need shortages. Is there anything specific being done to address that deficit in traditional apprenticeships?
I would certainly support State bodies getting involved. If one goes back through the full list of over 80 proposals, there are State bodies involved. These are very significant and important sectors of industry.
The take-up in traditional apprenticeships has doubled since 2012 and we are planning for a very substantial increase in the take-up of those. We are planning for the additional spaces to be taken on. I hope that growth will continue and it will be supported by my Department. The real thing is to try to broaden into new areas of apprenticeship as well so that it can become a valued route for people to support the technical skills that we need in modern manufacturing and services. Coming from my old job, it is a very important area that we can develop.