Wednesday, 7 November 2018
Apprenticeships: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann:recognises the critical importance of apprenticeships and vocational education and training;
accepts that:— the lack of apprenticeships is impacting the current construction industry and has the potential to hamper economic growth as the results of Brexit hit Ireland;acknowledges that:
— youth unemployment is still at 12 per cent;
— of the 1,500 registrations targeted by Government for new business-led apprenticeships in 2018, only 410 starts (27 per cent of target) had taken place by 30th September this year, while the 2017 target was missed by 58 per cent;
— approximately two per cent of school-leavers are participating in apprenticeships; and
— only two per cent of the total apprentice population are female;— apprentices advance and excel in the sectors they are involved in;calls on the Government to:
— a shift has taken place away from traditional craft apprenticeships in Ireland;
— there are currently only 41 apprenticeships while hundreds of different apprenticeship types exist in countries such as Germany;
— the current low number of apprentices registered this year in trades such as bricklaying (57), plastering (24) and floor and wall tiling (0), will create a large skills shortage that will negate the housing targets set by Government; and
— the Action Plan to Expand Apprenticeship and Traineeship in Ireland 2016-2020 aims at delivering 50,000 apprenticeships and traineeship registrations by 2020; and— recognise the value and appropriate status of apprenticeships as an equally valuable alternative to traditional education;
— recognise that apprenticeships are awarded high levels of qualification and offer great career choices and progression;
— improve linkages between third-level institutions and industry to improve access to newly developed apprenticeships;
— support the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission leading by example in the provision of parliamentary apprenticeships;
— create a mix of apprenticeship schemes within public body organisations including:
— horticulture, run by council parks and landscape departments;
— engineering, journalism, digital media or broadcast production in Raidió Teilifís Éireann;
— international relations run by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and
— Health Service Executive apprenticeships for support or technician occupations in healthcare, amongst others;
— expand the role of Seirbhísí Oideachais Leanúnaigh agus Scileanna (SOLAS) in initiating and driving new apprenticeships, by creating a fully resourced specialist internal apprenticeship unit that concentrates solely on generating new apprenticeships, and expanding the role of SOLAS in initiating and driving new apprenticeship opportunities among employers;
— open apprenticeship offices and revamp the www.apprenticeship.ie website to provide information for anybody interested in apprenticeships and further education;
— encourage Irish-resident firms and others with international apprenticeships to set up such schemes here;
— encourage large technology companies to offer apprenticeships in Ireland, in areas such as software engineering, online security, web development, data centre management, legal and policy roles;
— support Irish businesses to offer apprenticeships across various sectors, such as childcare, hair and beauty, hospitality (waitressing, reception, accommodation, and beverage), sports and leisure, social care, office administration and institutional cleaning;
— establish a taskforce to examine a limited form of apprenticeship training or short courses during transition year and target both young men and women to partake;
— intensify the promotion of apprenticeships among the public through the introduction of an annual National Apprenticeship Week;
— focus on promoting apprenticeships among specific groups, including persons with disabilities, older people and immigrants, and improving gender balance;
— address the shortfall in the number of apprenticeships in the construction sector in the coming years through the introduction of a shared apprenticeship scheme; and
— improve the delivery of quality-assured apprenticeships and ensure annual forecasting of all apprenticeship types by SOLAS.
I am sharing time with my colleagues. I am glad to see the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills here.
The purpose of this motion is to put forward and promulgate a new attitude towards apprenticeships to try to grow and encourage the spread of apprenticeships and also to highlight the value of them and the need for people to consider apprenticeships as a serious career option, as something that is available, worthwhile and equal to the traditional third level route in many cases.
Ireland is facing a series of challenges from Brexit to the housing crisis and skills shortages across a variety of sectors. Despite this, we are not seeing delivery in either the scale of new apprentice places required or the rapid expansion of the type of apprenticeship on offer. It is a hands off approach by the Government.
Of the 1,500 registrations for apprenticeships targeted by the Government for new business led apprenticeships in 2018, only a quarter have started. We have missed the 2017 targets by 58% and these are modest targets that are being missed.
Approximately 2% of school leavers are participating in apprenticeships and that tells me that students do not see an apprenticeship as a serious option and they are not being guided in the direction of it being a serious option by society and maybe their families also do not value apprenticeships as a serious option. That is something that we all have to address and what Fianna Fáil wants to achieve with this motion is that the Dáil will become a champion for apprenticeships as we suggest. We will let people know that they are there, we will try to push the Government to do more and we promise that we will do a lot more if we are in power but we have to ensure that people see this as a viable option.
I know that the Minister of State is doing work on this in third level but one of the most serious statistics is that only 2% of apprentices are female and that is the most unbalanced gender statistic in this country.
We are lagging far behind Britain and many EU countries in the scale and diversity of apprenticeships currently offered here and the truth is that if we are able to expand, develop and change the attitudes towards apprenticeships we would be some way towards dealing with the issue of the crisis in third level funding.
If we are to meet those challenges the structures which govern apprenticeships need to be brought into the 21st century.
There is a longstanding emphasis placed on the critical importance of apprenticeships and vocational and educational training in Europe and worldwide. We see this in Switzerland where decisions are made about vocational and academic training at an early age and we see it in Germany where a large amount of young people do apprenticeships rather than go to third level. The Government has been extremely late in facing the need to develop and advance the apprenticeship sector here. I am pleased that we are bringing forward this debate because it is an issue and a theme that is rarely discussed in this House.
My colleague John Lahart said to me some time ago that someone asked him where apprenticeships have gone when he was knocking at a door. People valued, wanted and aspired to an apprenticeship years ago but that aspiration does not seem to be achievable now or the attitudes in society are wrong or the information is not readily available.
Ireland must have a much broader, fully functioning apprenticeship model. We want to construct new apprenticeship structures that are accessible, affordable and attractive.
Our motion calls for the creation of a mix of apprenticeship schemes within public bodies, which should be leading by example. I have previously called for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to copy and paste what is being done in the House of Commons and I repeat that call today. The House of Commons has a fully functioning apprenticeship scheme which gives the young people involved the opportunity to qualify in the Houses of Parliament. It also sends a signal that the leaders of society, those in the Houses of Parliament, are leading by example and demonstrating that apprenticeships are a viable option for people.
We want to expand the role of SOLAS in initiating and driving new apprenticeships because we do not believe it should be left to businesses to decide what will happen. We need to drive this ourselves in terms of skills development. We need to open up apprenticeship offices and make them accessible to people and to revamp and promote the apprenticeship website. We also need to pursue Irish resident firms and large technology companies which offer apprenticeships in other countries, particularly in the UK, but do not offer them to any great extent in Ireland. We have a great apprenticeship tradition in the semi-State sector, with the former semi-state company, Aer Lingus, offering apprenticeships, as well as the ESB, for example. That could be massively expanded throughout the public and semi-State sectors.
We must provide enhanced supports to businesses to offer apprenticeships across various sectors and establish a task force to consider pre-apprenticeship training in schools. We want to see an intensification of the promotion of apprenticeships to the public, with a focus on apprenticeships among specific under-represented groups such as people with disabilities and women. We need more women apprentices urgently.
Traditionally, organisations such as county councils and semi-State companies have run apprenticeship schemes for craft occupations. There is no reason this cannot be expanded further. What is required is leadership from Government in terms of outlining what we want and the direction in which we should go. I have already mentioned my proposal regarding the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission but there are other initiatives that should be considered. We could have apprenticeships in horticulture run by council parks and landscape departments and apprenticeships in engineering, journalism, digital media or broadcast production run by RTÉ. People are going to college to learn these skills in an academic environment but it could be done in a workplace environment. We also need to see further initiatives in organisations such as the HSE. While I have cited England as an example of a country with a good apprenticeship system, I do not support the half-baked proposal to establish an apprenticeship programme for teachers. I am glad to say that this proposal has been dropped but there are many other good ideas emanating from the UK.
It is not enough to let the Apprenticeship Council call for proposals and then adjudicate on the submissions made by applicants. Thislaissez-faireapproach means that consortia are left to come up with ideas, plans and funding proposals. That said, some of these ideas and proposals are really good, including the insurance practitioner apprenticeship, for example, which provides a model for where we should be going, although the provision and uptake are far too low. The message that must be sent out regarding the insurance practitioner apprenticeship is that it is the equivalent of a third level degree. It is a level eight qualification and is not a soft option for those who did not get into college. It is actually quite a difficult option, with apprentices going into the workplace and studying alongside that in order to qualify. We need more of these types of apprenticeships but we cannot leave it to business to make provision. As a State, we must increase our involvement and lead by example.
Apprenticeship offices that are accessible would provide a one-stop shop for those developing apprenticeship schemes and those participating in such schemes to receive advice and information. We need Facebook, Amazon, Google and similar companies to be encouraged to get involved. I have no doubt that if they get the nod from Government, they will copy what they are doing in other countries and enhance their apprenticeship offerings in this country. My colleagues will refer to the skills shortages in our economy, particularly the shortage of chefs and construction workers.
The purpose of this motion is to change attitudes and perceptions and get more people to consider apprenticeships. We must send out the message that apprenticeships have not gone away and that they are available and a viable option for many.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important motion which aims to highlight the need to be more imaginative in how we approach apprenticeships and the broader labour market. There is no doubt that skills shortages are a significant constraint in an expanding economy that has enormous infrastructural deficits. Such deficits include not just major infrastructural projects, but housebuilding, childcare provision and educational facilities. Apprenticeship schemes are critically important for the individuals involved as well as for the economy, particularly one that is expanding. We must be creative in attracting young people into apprenticeship schemes so that they see them as a stepping stone and not just an end in and of themselves. We must make it clear that people can embark on an apprenticeship and then go on to third level or other further education at a later stage if they so wish. This is particularly important in the context of the so-called wet trades, for example, in the construction sector. We must accept that as people age, their ability or willingness to continue plastering while up on a scaffold, for example, will diminish. In that context, we must be creative in terms of moving people out of those very physically demanding apprenticeships into other forms of training and education to further their careers. We need to demonstrate to people that there is a pathway in and a pathway out.
This motion is timely and is designed to stimulate debate. There is a real need to foster the concept of apprenticeships being a viable career pathway that can benefit individuals and society at large. Apprenticeships can fill the infrastructural gaps in terms of housebuilding, childcare, educational facilities and so on.
Ireland has long been known as the island of saints and scholars but we are also a very skilled nation when it comes to working with our hands. Tens of thousands of tradesmen and tradeswomen in this country entered their chosen industry at a young age and learned it from the ground up, as apprentices. It is fair to say that our economy and citizens continue to benefit from the skills of such hardworking men and women. However, the current Fine Gael-led Administration has been extremely tardy in addressing the need to develop and advance the apprenticeship sector and take advantage of the largely untapped potential of our very skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen.
Getting to grips with the ongoing housing crisis in this country, for example, urgently requires more skilled workers to ramp up the construction of units and put bricks and mortar on the ground. Earlier this year, the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, predicted that 3,840 construction related apprentices will be required by 2020. Subsequent to this, the Government took the decision not to adopt and roll out the successfully piloted shared apprenticeship scheme carried out by SOLAS in partnership with CIF and the Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board. The pilot project for enabling builders to share apprenticeships was effectively abandoned, with no replacement to date. Despite the known success of this model in boosting apprenticeship numbers in Britain, the Government took the decision not to extend the pilot initiative to test the viability of the same scheme here. It is even more difficult to understand the reasoning behind this decision when one considers that Ireland is lagging far behind Britain and many EU countries in the scale and diversity of apprenticeships currently offered. Of the 1,500 registrations targeted by Government for new business led apprenticeships in 2018, only 410 starts, which is 27% of the target, had taken place by 30 September, while the 2017 target was missed by 58%. Young people need to be given a clearer avenue and better opportunities to take up work in the construction sector so that we are better able to secure the scale of workforce required to build affordable homes across Ireland.
There is a long-standing emphasis placed on the critical importance of apprenticeships and vocational education and training in Europe and worldwide. Traditionally, the focus has been on craft apprenticeships in Ireland but until recently little has been done to expand the range of career enhancing apprenticeships that can be provided. The national apprenticeship system is chronically underdeveloped and requires the Government to be aggressively proactive in getting additional apprenticeship occupations established that are of a high quality and are built to last. The Fianna Fáil motion before the House this afternoon seeks to achieve this.
Ireland must have a fully functioning apprenticeship model but unfortunately we are lagging far behind many EU countries in terms of both scale and diversity. Recently the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation conducted a comprehensive engagement with all relevant stakeholders on the cost of doing business. The Ministers of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputies Mitchell O'Connor and Halligan, will be very aware of the work of that committee and it is appropriate that they are in the Chamber today because there must be collaboration between the Departments of Education and Skills and Business, Enterprise and Innovation in the promotion of apprenticeships.
The Irish Farmers Association, IFA, Construction Industry Federation, Restaurants Association of Ireland and the Irish Hotels Federation said the skills shortage was a significant issue for their sectors and cited the lack of apprenticeships. One issue identified is that since the dismantling of CERT in 2003 there has been no single organisation with sole responsibility for hospitality and tourism training policy and this has left a huge gap in that sector. The committee also heard that within the construction industry certain skills such as plumbing and electrical work continue to come through. However, wet skills such as plastering and block-laying remain scarce. The IFA also raised concerns that there will be a shortage of managers in the future and that there is a need for an apprenticeship scheme for people to progress to become farm managers and owners. Having listened to those at the coal face I believe the apprenticeship is chronically underdeveloped and requires the Government to be aggressively proactive in getting additional apprenticeship occupations established.
A special emphasis is also required to promote female participation in apprenticeships with women representing only 2% of the apprentice population. Although progress has been made in recent years with a bursary in place for employers who recruit women apprentices more needs to be done to support groups that are vastly under-represented. In the UK for example, 54% of apprenticeship starts in 2016–17 were women compared with 2% here.
This motion should not be confrontational. It should be collaborative and we should work together on it. Apprenticeship training is an under-utilised and under-developed resource. Deputy Byrne referred to the fact that only 2% of school leavers aspire to apprenticeship training. Worse, the number of women in apprenticeship training is very low. That is traditionally because apprenticeships focused on the crafts. In recent years that has broadened. There is huge scope. There are multinational companies operating in this country that have apprenticeship training schemes for a range of skills in other countries but they do not provide them here. The role of SOLAS has to be expanded significantly. It has to take a lead and be much more proactive about the type of training it provides.
I am not having a go at the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Halligan, but he needs to be much more ambitious. Two weeks ago he told me: "Arising from our two calls for apprenticeship proposals in 2015 and 2017 sixteen new apprenticeships have now been developed in a range of new occupations, including financial services, engineering, ICT, hospitality, logistics and accounting." He went on to say and will probably repeat it today, "Further new apprenticeships will get underway later this year and throughout 2019". That is correct but the problem is we are not attracting the significant numbers of people into those apprenticeships that we could and should. The numbers engaging in the new apprenticeships do not compare with those in the traditional old craft apprenticeships.
The Minister of State talks about the increased number saying that at the end of September this year it was 7% ahead of the same period last year. That is not significant enough. We are starting from a low base. We need to be much more ambitious and we need to go back to our students in second level schools and show them that this is a real career path, that it is on a par with any other third level course and that the qualification they get can be measured in such a way and give them the type of career progression that they would think they are getting from traditional third level courses. Apprenticeship training needs those career paths.
I commend Deputy Thomas Byrne for bringing this motion forward. There is a real passion on this side of the House for apprenticeships. I raised it when I was first elected in 2014 at a time when the Troika was running the country and I thought there were Ministers who would not have had an awful lot to do and apprenticeships was an obvious area on which to expend some serious energy to build programmes. We need as a society to develop a much stronger philosophy around apprenticeships. There was a survey based on postal addresses and in the Dublin 6 area 99% of those who did leaving certificate went to college. I cannot believe that 99% of them wanted to go to college. Surely there were some in that number who would have liked to have had different options but they are simply not there.
The male to female disparity has been mentioned: there are 14,500 males in apprenticeships, and 319 females. In Northern Ireland there were 6,000 apprentices last year and of them 34% were women. In Britain, of 369,000 apprentices, 54% were women. In Denmark, 45% of those who have come through apprenticeship programmes are women. Apprenticeship programmes are not just for the 17 to 20 year olds. A person can connect into one at any time in their working life by retraining, re-education and re-skilling.
I am not knocking the Government but it is very slow. There are many third level education programmes - we need to be courageous enough to say this - that qualify students for nothing. There is an overemphasis on college education. Students who have come through a handful of college programmes say they were educated for nothing. Those who had an apprenticeship and were forced to emigrate in bad times got a job within 24 or 48 hours.
Local authorities would be a good place to start. Deputy Byrne mentioned the parks departments. I would add library departments too and all the functions that could be carried out in local authorities. Imagine if we ran sports apprenticeships in this country: every school that has a physical education, PE, teacher could have a satellite of three or four PE instructors who have come through an apprenticeship programme supporting them. Every sports club, regardless of code, could have a range of apprenticeship supports training kids on the pitches because sports clubs of every code are having difficulty attracting volunteers. Maybe today will spark the start of a serious conversation where we change philosophy and we do not denigrate college but say that there are alternatives. When the apprenticeship commission was set up in the UK its objective was simple, that every parent "might" consider the idea of an apprenticeship for their child. We are nowhere near that.
The Ministers of State, Deputies Mitchell O'Connor and Halligan, have been doing the heavy lifting on this issue since this Government was appointed in 2016. We thought about doing the usual tonight: voting against a motion because Government votes against an Opposition motion, until we realised there are certain elements of it where we are singing from the same hymn sheet. We are all aspiring to get more and we are not there yet but we adopt this position in the interests of being collaborative, as Deputy Curran said, and co-operative because it is an important issue. I acknowledge the role of the Ministers of State in the past two years because it has been a learning experience in the past two weeks to find out how much work has gone on. I served my apprenticeship in Departments with responsibility for communications, the Gaeltacht and foreign affairs and sometimes a Minister of State could be beavering away and coming up with new ideas but nobody would know about it. I commend the work of both these Ministers of State. They have engaged with the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and industry. This is industry and demand led. There was an 80% drop in registration during the recession years. We are moving into a more positive position.
I hear the point on the gender issue. That is a real challenge. When I was a secondary school teacher trying to teach mathematics, business studies and geography there were always one or two students who knew when they were 12 or 14 that they were not heading for an academic world but were heading to be plasterers, mechanics or something in the engineering sector. We do have to listen to secondary school students and what they want and where they feel the world of work is going. We have to be robust and both Ministers of State appreciate and understand that. The world of work is changing and there will be different types of work. We do not know where 40% of jobs will be in the next five years.
I acknowledge the different organisations, including institutes of technology, the university sector, and the education and training boards, ETBs, in particular. Traditionally, the ETBs had a specific focus on vocational education and they have kept that culture and philosophy. I also acknowledge other schools that offer engineering and crafts. We are looking at changing needs. I learned there are 17 new consortia led apprenticeships in a variety of sectors, ranging from financial services to logistics, and ICT to hospitality. We have to adapt. Few apprenticeships were developed in the past 20 years. However, by the end of the year, the Government will have almost doubled the number of apprentices available and we hope to have reached a figure of 33 by the end of 2019. These sectors all saw the value of offering apprenticeships with a new flexible approach. The State dictated model was not able to be expanded and we are now having the conversation about new possibilities.
Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le mo chomhghleacaithe as an gcomhoibriú seo. I thank Fianna Fáil for its suggestion on how we can work collaboratively on this issue. The House needs to hold the Government to account but it must also be flexible to ensure we can have debate and bring concrete solutions forward. I acknowledge the great work of my two colleagues, the Ministers of State, Deputies Mitchell O'Connor and Halligan, in the past two years.
I am delighted that Fianna Fáil has tabled this Private Member's motion. We need to have a national conversation about apprenticeships. While apprenticeships are an exciting option for many young people, they are the Cinderella of career options and are not seen by many young people and their parents as viable or attractive. I am delighted that we are working together to get this message out. I will spend my time trying to talk to parents to encourage their children to take up apprenticeships. We as a country need to look at what we do on the day that the leaving certificate results come out. We celebrate everyone who gets 600 points or more and talk about higher education offerings, who has the highest points and who is going to which college. At the same time, we ignore a cohort of students who are innately intelligent and very capable but for whom the leaving certificate may not have been appropriate, either on the day they sat the examination or when they were first offered a choice of subjects.
We need to provide a viable option for students. To be fair, apprenticeships are available but they are not being taken up. Previous speakers cited statistics and the Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan, will also provide numerous figures when he contributes later. I hope parents are listening to me. I have had the opportunity to visit the colleges of further education in Dún Laoghaire, Sallynoggin, Blackrock and Longford. I am often invited, as the Minister of State with responsibility for higher education, to award certificates to graduates. I always try to take the opportunity to talk to graduates for a few minutes and I always ask what they are thinking of doing next. Almost all of them are going on to further education and college or taking up jobs. They are almost all very confident and articulate, often job-ready, and have the skills to work.
I visited the accountancy technician class in Blackrock College of Further Education on Monday and I was bowled over by the ability of the students. I went through the class, who were from all over the country, and they told me about the different employers with which they work four days a week. They are then released every Monday to attend college, get class experience and sit examinations for their accountancy technician certificate. They were very confident, assured and ambitious for what they want to do in the future. Many wanted to go on to study accountancy. There are many pathways for students and not everything is about points in the leaving certificate.
Deputy Thomas Byrne noted the need to have internships in State bodies. The Revenue Commissioners have taken on ten trainee apprentices in Limerick. They are in the Revenue offices for four days each week and are trained on another day. When I was Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, I was told that we needed hundreds of commis chefs. That has been turned around and from next September Dún Laoghaire Further Education Institute will offer commis chef trainee apprenticeships. The system is responding. We have come out of a recession, which has been difficult. The message from all of us in this Chamber is for parents to encourage their children and students to consider an apprenticeship. I had the privilege of speaking at a conference of guidance counsellors a fortnight ago. They were extremely vocal in their support of apprenticeships and want to make students aware of them. They cannot force students into apprenticeships but certainly want to encourage them.
Of the 2% of school leavers who take up apprenticeships, only 2% are female. A bursary is available to employers in the traditional internships if they take on female interns. It is up to €2,600 for eligible employers who take on female apprentices for traditional apprenticeships. We want this to happen and we are working with SOLAS, the ETBs, the colleges of further education and the institutes of technology. Students who go to a technological university will have the option of doing an apprenticeship. They can continue on that educational pathway or step out along the way if they wish. Perhaps they will then step back in and do a level 8 degree, a doctorate or something else, depending on how they want to proceed. They should know, however, that pathways, internships and apprentices are available.
Sinn Féin will support the motion as it echoes our position and views on apprenticeships and the drastic change of tack that is needed. We have been calling for greater investment in apprenticeships and a wider choice of apprenticeship courses focused on current skills shortages. We have also called on the Government to address the gender imbalance, which has been mentioned frequently today, and the virtual absence of women applying for and taking up apprenticeships. This year, only 2% of apprentices were women, which is a shocking figure.
Sinn Féin has consistently called for the inclusion of opportunities for people with additional needs and for them to be treated fairly and offered the choice to take up an apprenticeship in an area in which they are interested. We allocated €32.8 million in our alternative budget for the provision of 4,411 additional apprenticeships and the development of ten extra courses next year alone. This compares with just €20 million the Government announced for 2019. The number of people in apprenticeship training remains far too low. This will lead to a skills shortage in a number of areas in the coming years, particularly the construction and hospitality industries. We are already seeing this in construction where it is difficult to get qualified people.
The delivery of new courses and expansion of the system are far too slow and the Government is missing its own targets in this area. In 2017, just 391 people took part in newly established apprenticeship programmes, a significantly lower figure than the Government's target of 800.
In addition, only nine of the promised 15 new apprenticeship programmes were introduced last year. The female participation rate is completely unacceptable at just 2% this year. The rate of youth unemployment remains far too high at . Only last month the National Youth Council of Ireland said that 8,000 young people in Ireland have been unemployed for 12 months or more. There is concern about the 7,817 young people under 26 who are now long-term unemployed. We know that Dublin saw the highest number of young people in long-term unemployment with 1,697 people aged 26 and under having no job, followed by Cork with 526 and Limerick with 469. When one is unemployed for more than a year or more it is difficult to break the cycle and get back into the workforce. It is important that we try to catch people at a young age before they fall into that trap.
The National Youth Council stated the need for development of, and investment in, an access apprenticeship programme to support young people who have fewer opportunities and qualifications. In view of that, it called for an investment of €2 million to help more young people access apprenticeship programmes, stating opportunities should remain open to all young people, particularly those who were are economically and socially disadvantaged. The entrance criteria for some apprenticeships now require qualifications to a certain level in some subjects. That does nothing to help the young person who has the motivation, aptitude and potential skills for a trade but cannot meet the entrance criteria. The council proposed that the Government would provide an additional 2,650 education and training places at a cost of €20 million, which would lead to reduced social welfare payments as more young people move into employment.
The council also highlighted the fact that the Government has yet to draw down on Youth Guarantee funding which is available via central EU funding. That is something we should avail of as it is intend to go towards creating measures for young people under the age of 25 to support a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a short time of becoming unemployed. That is something that requires further examination.
The number of apprenticeship programmes available in Ireland is substantially behind other European countries. For example, Austria has 250 apprenticeship occupations while Germany has some 348. Currently, approximately 41 are available here. We need to see a more creative approach towards apprenticeships in areas such as green energy, hospitality, childcare and administration, which would more than likely offer more choice and opportunities to women as well.
Trades should not be limited to men. I accept the point has also been made by the Ministers who have spoken. Women should beencouraged to develop trades knowing that a trade offers a realistic and sustainable career path for them as well as for men. It is therefore important that women are encouraged to take up trade apprenticeships. In the past many women were skilled in carpentry, painting and decorating and we should encourage a return to that.
In general, we hear much talk in society as well as from the Government about encouraging more women to return to the workforce and creating initiatives to achieve that end. We need to be serious and to get real about some of the reasons women find it difficult to enter the workforce. One of the main barriers is the provision of childcare and the cost of it. We know how we compare to other EU countries where costs are heavily subsidised. The lack of affordable childcare in Ireland has contributed to low rates of participation by women in the workforce. Childcare fees in Ireland are well above both the EU and OECD average. In both apprenticeships and further education we must examine the barriers that exist due to the lack of availability of childcare and the cost of it. The affordable childcare scheme is a welcome initiative but we need to expand on the provision of childcare as it can be a major barrier to women in particular going back to work or further education. We are happy to support the motion.
I thank Fianna Fáil for tabling this motion on apprenticeships, which is timely and useful. Given that Sinn Féin has been advocating for greater investment in apprenticeships for a considerable time and we produced a policy document on what we believe is needed, I am pleased Fianna Fáil now also sees the benefits of this method of education and training.
I recognise the work and interest of the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, in apprenticeships, but I urge him to refocus his efforts in the area. I am concerned at the slow reform and expansion of the apprenticeship system and I believe a greater importance should be placed on it. To be honest, although this motion is welcome, it is well known that a motion in this House is not binding. Therefore, it would have been more beneficial for Fianna Fáil to use its partnership position in government to ensure more funding was allocated in the recent budget for apprenticeships, rather than let the budget pass by and then give out about what the Government is not doing. Unfortunately, that is what has happened.
In our recent alternative budget for 2019, Sinn Féin allocated an additional €32.8 million for 2019 to provide for more than 4,400 apprenticeship places, bringing the total to 18,000, while also funding the establishment of ten new apprenticeship courses, in line with our five-year strategy in this area. Our allocation dwarfed that of the Government which amounts to just €20 million extra for next year. The Government's plans are unambitious, uninspiring and are unacceptably slow. It is not good enough that the Government is missing its own targets in this area. In 2017, just 391 people took part in newly established apprenticeship programmes, significantly missing the Government's target of 800. In addition, only nine of the promised 15 new apprenticeship programmes were introduced last year.
Apprenticeship training allows people to earn, learn and gain work experience while also working towards a qualification under the national framework of qualifications, NFQ. A great deal of work is needed to promote this method of education and training and to ensure buy-in from parents and students alike. Unfortunately, a belief developed in recent years that apprenticeships were somehow a lesser form of education than college or university. That is most certainly not the case, as college does not suit everyone, as we see from the dropout rates. Engaging in an apprenticeship is incredibly advantageous, as it allows a student to earn while learning and gaining valuable work experience at the same time. More needs to be done to highlight the benefits of apprenticeships and the careers to which they can lead.
Apprenticeships will also help to equip Ireland with the skilled workers it needs for growing and emerging industries in the coming years. Countless reports from industry have pointed out the current and developing shortage of skills in various sectors of the economy. The National Skills Bulletin 2017 cites skills shortages in the ICT, engineering, business and financial, healthcare, transport and construction industries. The Construction Industry Federation's report, Demand for Skills in Construction to 2020, outlined that Ireland will need 112,000 workers to deliver the houses and infrastructure we need in the coming years.
I am concerned at the current registration numbers in some of the craft apprenticeships. For example, just 74 people are registered in the plastering apprenticeship programme while only 164 are registered in the brick and stone-laying programme. We need to expand the number of apprentices in the construction sector radically in order to build the thousands of houses needed in the coming years, in addition to all the capital projects in the Ireland 2040 plan.
The rate of female participation in apprenticeships has been raised by a number of speakers. In addition to that, the inclusion of people with disabilities in apprenticeships has been something Sinn Féin has consistently highlighted as a serious issue of concern, and something that needs to be urgently addressed. It is astonishing to think that in 2018, there are just 319 female apprentices out of a total apprentice population of 13,921, representing a dismal 2%. I sought information about the level of participation of people with disabilities in apprenticeships. The response I got from the Minister failed to answer the question I asked, but information I received from SOLAS directly informed me that its records indicate 371 people with disabilities are engaged in apprenticeships. Again, that is an incredibly low rate of participation. I ask the Minister to ensure that in future this information is available in response to parliamentary questions, as this is a very important demographic, and it needs to be monitored to make sure this level of participation is increasing.
On a similar point, I previously asked about the participation rate of members of the Traveller community, and again the figures are not kept. How does Fine Gael expect to "promote greater Traveller participation in apprenticeships", which is a quote from the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021, if it does not even have data on the numbers currently involved?
The Government needs to refocus its efforts in apprenticeships and to invest in promoting apprenticeships as a worthwhile path for third level education. We need to expand radically the number of apprentices in the system. Although I welcome the ambition of the Minister to introduce a swathe of new courses, the delivery to date has been less than desirable. A better focus and priority must be placed on this plan. Sinn Féin will support the motion as we are keen advocates of apprenticeships and want to see this area radically expanded in the coming years.
I welcome the motion. Apprenticeships offer great opportunities for young people to develop a long-term career and to earn at a young age.
We have great examples from other countries that encourage vocational training and apprenticeships for young people but the sector has been neglected here. We have been limiting young people's opportunities as a result. Apprenticeships should not be seen as a second option to college. They should be seen as a legitimate and proper long-term career option for school-leavers. Let us consider the position in Germany. Vocational training and apprenticeships there offer an alternative to higher education. The sector caters for almost 60% of the country's young people. In Germany there are 348 apprenticeships, while there are only 41 on offer in Ireland, covering 2% of school leavers. The number is low. This area needs to be developed. Apprenticeships offer an alternative to college for young people who may not be academically inclined and may prefer to work and thrive in a more vocational setting. For families who cannot afford third level education apprenticeships give an opportunity for employment for young people. Currently a young person does not have these options. With an apprenticeship such a young person could go straight into a job but at the moment he or she might go into a dead-end job with little opportunity for progression.
The unemployment rate in Germany in 2016 for 15 to 24 year olds was a little over 6.7% compared to 17.3% across the European Union. Currently in this State 12% of people in that category are unemployed.
Apprenticeships give young people an opportunity to begin work, contribute as well as earn and learn at the same time. I know the Minister and the two Ministers of State have an interest in this. They are from coastal counties but I wish to speak about the midlands. The midlands is in danger of becoming a rust belt because of what is happening with Bord na Móna. Significant job losses have been announced in Bord na Móna. In the past Bord na Móna – I am a former employee of the company – and ESB were the great providers of employment. They were also great providers of apprenticeships for many different trades, including electricians, welders, fitters and so on.
The transition from fossil fuels to clean and green energy from indigenous renewable sources gives us opportunities. There is an opportunity now for Bord na Móna, ESB and Coillte to play a new role in developing those industries and creating long-term sustainable jobs. There is an opportunity for apprenticeships.
We are looking for part of the climate action fund to replace declining industries. I am saying this in a constructive way. I appeal to the Minister and the Ministers of State. This is an opportunity to flag the matter with them at an early stage.
I know people who have gone through apprenticeships. I was an apprentice at one time. I know other people who went through the process. I did not finish mine because I went off in a completely different direction. People who come through apprenticeships turn out to be good workers. They are skilful and turn out to be good businesspeople and good members of society because they are learning, earning and developing at an early age.
We have to develop the biogas and biomass industries as well as horticulture, manufacturing and waste recycling. Bord na Móna is moving into all of these areas. Apprenticeships will be needed in these areas. Laois and Offaly could and should be hubs for future employment and apprenticeship opportunities. I am pushing this idea hard. I want the Government and Bord na Móna to take this up. My colleagues beside me brought forward the document I have before me earlier this year. It contains Sinn Féin's realistic proposals to expand the apprenticeships population to 60,000 by 2023. I commend Deputy Quinlivan and Deputy Funchion on bringing that forward. The plan is realistic.
We want to stop limiting young people's options and give them long-term opportunities in long-term careers. We want the Government to expand the range of opportunities. We need to look to what is happening in more successful societies. They have developed more successful economies.
The building trade has been mentioned. The Minister probably knows this from Donegal and the Ministers of State probably know it from Waterford and south Dublin. Building sites throughout the country have terrible examples of scandalous workmanship because the people who built them were not tradesmen. We are going to wind up with the same thing again. I realise we are in a catch-up phase, but we urgently need to train up people as bricklayers, plasterers, carpenters, electricians and plumbers. Otherwise we will wind up with disastrous housing estates in ten years' time.
I am glad this motion is before the House. The issue of the redevelopment and expansion of the apprenticeship system is vital to our future economic success.
When I became part of the last Government in 2011 the apprenticeship system had collapsed. In fact, much of my time was spent trying to help people whose apprenticeships had collapsed. The idea was to help them through various agencies to find a way to complete the apprenticeships. There was a period when almost no apprenticeships were being offered by anyone. I am happy to say that four or five years ago I was heavily involved with ESB. The company was the first major employer to recommence electrical apprenticeships on a wide scale. There was a high level of interest throughout the country from young men and women from all walks of life and every part of Ireland who sought to become apprentices.
In the case of the skilled trades, including sparks, it is obvious that what has happened in Austria and Germany is now happening in Ireland. If a person does well in trade examinations, there is an easy stepping stone. I was involved with creating the path when I was a lecturer in education and development in Dublin Institute of Technology. The idea was to have a structure where an apprentice can transfer full-time or part-time to a degree course and become an electrical engineer, motor engineer or construction engineer of some kind.
I hope we can increase the current numbers to serious levels. The numbers are in the low thousands currently. We need an appropriate number for the Irish economy with the demands of employers for labour and in particular the demands in the construction industry. Housing is the most obvious example. There is extraordinary demand for commercial building, public sector building for hospitals as well as building for hotels and facilities for tourism throughout Ireland. These are the cornerstones of our future prosperity and the sustainability of our economic performance. Apprenticeships are key to all of this.
I have had this discussion several times with the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar. If he has a blind spot, it is that he does not understand apprenticeships. I can understand why. He is used to a world where people go to college as an automatic selection point. In fact, two of the countries we should look to follow are relevant in this regard. These are Austria, which is approximately the same size as Ireland, and Germany. They have what they call the dual system. The dual system means that as a student comes to the later years of her secondary education she can select two paths. One corresponds to what in Ireland is now the conventional path. It involves going directly into third level education or else with a delay of a year or so by doing a post-leaving certificate course and then going directly to a degree. In Ireland we simply do not have the dual path that is available in those countries. In Germany and Austria if a person gets a quality apprenticeship, she can take that apprenticeship and earn and learn. That is important for many people. Subsequently, the apprentice can work in whatever sector the trade is relevant. Nowadays, a range of trades are available. They include working in the insurance, banking and information technology industries as well as working in the traditional craft and construction industries. A wide range of trades are available.
SOLAS, which was created at the height of the economic crash when FÁS, as we knew it, had collapsed in on itself, has been a fairly successful development. It has had significant success in identifying additional and new areas where people could take on a trade. Insurance, banking and IT are the easiest to identify but there are many more. I refer to areas in care and healthcare and allied areas in nursing and other special services in hospitals. There are many areas in which we can expand the numbers of trades. What SOLAS not been able to do is have a structure that will enable us to take on 10,000 to 20,000 apprentices every year. Our numbers are nowhere near the critical level we need. The Minister needs to examine that.
I raise the potential significance of apprenticeship opportunities for people from a Traveller background. Given the history of crafts and skills in the Traveller community there would be a major welcome for specifically geared apprenticeship programmes for people from a Traveller background, whether that be in the different craft areas or in more recent areas of apprenticeship development. It is important that we seek to re-establish and explore these areas as soon as possible. I am aware the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, is very interested in this and that there have been many good initiatives in Waterford.
In the time available to me I want to mention also the significance of linking craft and apprenticeship development with post-leaving certificate courses, PLCs, because in many areas where there are large housing estates that were or still are local authority estates, many people have almost an excessive localism. In the case of some young people, they often become somewhat detached from school in their later years there and are reluctant to move outside their home area in terms of further development, education and training. If interesting apprenticeship opportunities were offered to many such young people, for example, in the motor, construction and craft trades, I believe there would be an intense take-up of the places.
We need to recognise that following the economic crash, many employers who used to take on two or three apprentices are no longer in a position to fund that on a guaranteed basis for three or three and a half years. The structure of the relationship of the employer to the apprentice needs to be re-thought. For instance, when people in construction have an impaired loan rating, they will not be able to get an overdraft to pay an apprentice's wages whereas if the same person came directly through a trade college, a trade PLC or some other mechanism, they could be taken up by the employer and employed after they have done the first part of their trade education. That would result in a big increase in the take-up of apprenticeships by people, whom I believe would be quite good employers.
Yes; I am sharing with Deputy Barry. I want to tell the Minister of State a little story which sums up what we need to do if we want to encourage people to get back into apprenticeships. I was at the Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach dealing with the Finance Bill so I have not heard all the debate but I am sure other speakers have said that there are not many issues more important than dramatically increasing the number of apprentices. Many of the hopes we have of solving the housing crisis in particular critically depend on us increasing the number of people taking up apprenticeships in the trades in a dramatic way. Also, in terms of our hopes for infrastructural development, we have to get large numbers of young people taking up apprenticeships again.
The story I am about to relate sums up the problem. I met a young man, whose name I will not mention, at a protest involving film workers on precarious employment in the film industry. It was interesting, and I will talk more about this in the finance committee in a while, that a bit of a hatchet job was done by RTÉ on those protesting workers last Thursday, which was shameful and a gross misrepresentation of the issues affecting workers trying to find a career for themselves in an industry like film, where many of them would be tradespeople and which depends heavily on tradespeople. The day after that protest, and I would like the producers of "Prime Time" to take this on board in terms of the way they misrepresented some of the issues involved, an apprentice painter who was participating in it rang me. He has served his entire apprenticeship while living in emergency homeless accommodation. I spent the next few days, thankfully successfully, pleading with Dublin City Council to assist him with his housing assistance payment, HAP, because he was threatened with eviction by his landlord. In fairness to Brendan Kenny, we succeeded in sorting it out, but that is what he has had to put up with for four years as an apprentice.
His case brings into focus two very important issues. Why do we have difficulty getting people to enter the trades? I will tell the Minister of State the reason. It is because precarious employment for the trades is rampant. Many people have left the trades and do not want to go back into them. Many of those who worked on construction are driving taxis now and would not dream of returning to construction or other trades because of the precarity of much of the work and bogus self-employment, which means they cannot get mortgages, they cannot be guaranteed to pay their rents and so on. Unless we deal with that side of it, there will not be the encouragement necessary for people to go back into the trades.
In areas like film, construction and many other areas where we are talking about apprenticeships, people need to have some prospect that they will have some kind of employment security, half decent conditions of employment, half decent pay and so on if they are to enter the trades. I also believe, given that type of situation, that we need to consider increasing the income apprentices earn while they are apprentices to encourage them to take up apprenticeships in the first place because many of them will not do it for that reason.
I am a supporter of apprenticeships and of a strong apprenticeship programme. What we have currently is falling way short. The motion reads "of the 1,500 registrations targeted by Government for new business-led apprenticeships in 2018, only 410 starts (27 per cent of target) had taken place by 30th September this year, while the 2017 target was missed by 58 per cent". It further reads "only two per cent of the total apprentice population are female".
Having made that point, I want to address a glaring omission from the motion, namely, the question of college fees for apprentices. If we asked apprentices what are the biggest issues they deal with in the course of their apprenticeships, near the top of the list would be the penal college fees they are asked to pay. These amount to €1,000 a year, or more in some cases. More people drop out of apprenticeships at the point of block release than at any other time, often because they do not have enough money. As in Deputy Boyd Barrett's example, many apprentices have to travel to do their apprenticeships and do not live at home. They have to fork out for the cost of accommodation and pay huge sums to rack-renting landlords in addition to the fees of €1,000 they are charged. In 2014 and 2015, Germany abolished tuition fees for apprentices. At about the same time, the Government went in the opposite direction. SOLAS used to pay 70% of an apprentice's fee but that was cut to 0% and a charge of €1,000 per year was introduced. Given the skills shortage in the economy and the need for 50,000 apprentices a year, the simple way to encourage young people to do apprenticeships, as the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, says we should, would be to reverse those cuts, follow the German example and abolish the fees. By the way, fees were abolished in Germany following nationwide protests by apprentices, a point that should be noted by apprentices and trade unions in this country.
There seems to be some confusion on the part of the Minister of State. She is confused, it seems, between apprenticeships on the one hand and internships on the other. Perhaps this confusion has smuggled itself into the motion as well. The Minister of State referred to young people doing internships in the Revenue Commissioners in Limerick which consist of four days a week on the job and one day a week of training. I would be interested in finding out the pay and conditions of those young people as I suspect they are undertaking internships as opposed to apprenticeships, which involve training for a trade or a profession.
I am concerned about aspects of the Fianna Fáil motion which refers to apprenticeships for the likes of engineering, journalism and digital broadcasting production at RTÉ and "parliamentary apprenticeships". I smell a rat when I hear this from political parties which have stood over schemes like JobBridge and have announced training for young people while in reality rolling out cheap labour schemes that have enabled cheapskate employers to exploit them. Why do we need apprenticeships in some of these fields when they are not necessarily professions or trades? Why not hire young people, pay them the rate for the job and give them training on the job? I wonder if some of the proposals here and some of the Minister's comments are intended to smuggle in cheap labour internships under the cover of genuine training for a profession or craft, which is the definition of an apprenticeship.
I am also sharing time with Deputy Broughan.
I will start by referring to a reply I received in mid-October to a parliamentary question about apprenticeships. My question concerned the hospitality area and the shortages therein. The reply stated that an expert group on future skills set up in 2015 produced a number of findings and recommendations, one of which was the establishment of a national oversight and advisory group. This group was set up for two years in 2016 and identified five priority areas, including the development of apprenticeships and an audit of courses. A report was issued on the audit and how to identify the gaps and address the skill sets required by the sector. As of now, two apprenticeships are operational and a further three are in development. Further to this, a restaurant and hospitality Skillnet course was established in 2017. In the meantime there is a shortage in the industry, notwithstanding what the Minister of State said earlier.
Under the old system run under the remit of Fáilte Ireland, certificate courses were provided in a wide variety of areas, ranging from accommodation to manager positions. Workplaces were built in to the courses and there were opportunities for on-the-job training, particularly at managerial level. The tourism and hospitality industry was well staffed at that time. However, this initiative, which was working well, was disbanded leading to a shortage of staff. In the meantime, we are getting audits, reports and plans for the future.
A second issue I came across concerned contractors who found it difficult to get apprentices in the mechanical engineering field. They devised a free five-week pre-apprenticeship course. They saw the need for it. It comprised five weeks basic training, including work experience. All the tools and equipment were provided and the course served as a weeding-out process. There was a cost attached. Seven young people took part and although two dropped out, five completed the course and have now secured apprenticeships. The person running the course was approved for training and parts of the course are certified. The irony is that one of the young people, who was in homeless accommodation, found that his social protection payment was stopped because he was not available for work. He was penalised for undertaking a pre-apprenticeship course that could have led to a well-paid job. To date, SOLAS and the City of Dublin Education and Training Board, CDETB, have not responded to appeals to meet this group. I hope they will do so after this debate. I was informed in a reply to another parliamentary question that the Department of Education and Skills is engaging with SOLAS on a review of pathways to apprenticeships. I hope there will be a place for the course to which I referred.
We must also examine post-leaving certificate, PLC, courses. There are several such one-year courses that could lead into apprenticeships in the area as well as further qualifications. Joined-up thinking is badly needed. There must be a space for individual initiatives like the one I mentioned and for PLC courses. There must also be a more concentrated outreach effort towards schools. Just as colleges visit students in fifth and sixth year, representatives should visit schools to talk about apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship courses. It has to be acknowledged that FÁS's reputation in this area has not been good, and this needs to be improved.
It is also important to reach students at junior certificate level, particularly those who do not want to go further in formal education. There is an opportunity to have a big display on apprenticeships and where they can lead at the Higher Options event.
This is a very interesting area and I am glad Fianna Fáil has brought the subject forward. It is definitely an issue that has been neglected. The area I am most familiar with is the construction industry where there is a serious problem now. The most essential trade in construction is probably carpentry. If a young man wanted to serve his time as a carpenter 30 years ago, he would be taken on by a contractor and assigned to a qualified carpenter. He would spend five years with that carpenter, who would be obliged to train him. The young man would be a runner for the first while, seeing to errands, but he would eventually be trained. This process included an element of testing to make sure the apprentice was fit to be a carpenter.
The system worked really well. One of the main reasons it has collapsed is that builders, especially the bigger builders, no longer employ labour directly. It is mostly subcontracted and it is less feasible for a subcontractor to get into the apprenticeship game. This creates a major challenge and the position will not change without Government intervention. It has reached a stage where one cannot find young qualified tradespeople in Ireland. For more than 15 years we have been outsourcing them by finding workers in eastern Europe. We bring in guys who have done the work in their own country but we do not have tradespeople of our own to do the work. That is a serious problem.
I have seen research carried out by Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT, showing that only 29% of firms in the construction industry engage in apprenticeship training. I am surprised the figure is that high. Obviously, that does not bode well for trade skills in the country going forward.
The report suggests that as confidence and a lack of sufficient work are identified as key issues, efforts should be made to establish mechanisms by which alternative delivery of employment and training could be achieved. Part of the problem is that no Government has dealt with the fact that we have a dysfunctional construction industry. Until some Government tackles that, we will find it difficult to address the apprenticeship problem without it costing a lot of money.
I echo those comments by my colleagues. I commend Fianna Fáil on bringing the motion before us.
The Action Plan to Expand Apprenticeship and Traineeship in Ireland 2016–2020 was introduced with the ambition of securing 50,000 apprentices by 2020. During the boom and up to the period that Deputy Wallace spoke about, there were often up to 30,000 apprenticeships, but the number dropped drastically after 2013. It is alarming that perhaps only 2% of those leaving school are taking up apprenticeships in Ireland whereas in Germany the figure can be up to 60%.
A notable development over recent years has been the way in which British Governments have tried more than we do to link apprenticeship with third level colleges up to degree level. In carpentry or in the various trades that have been referred to, one would effectively have a degree and that important skill.
The numbers are deplorable. I asked the Minister, Deputy Bruton, about the shortages in the construction sector when he was Minister for Education and Skills and he replied that the number of construction related apprentices being registered was determined by employers within the construction sector. That is a cop-out. There is a necessity for the State to intervene and ensure the supply of apprenticeships. It is a remarkable comment on Fine Gael-led Governments since 2011 that the numbers receiving certificates in construction have been 463 in 2014, 314 in 2015 and 243 in 2016. Of these, only two certificates were issued in the area of floor and wall tiling in 2014 and 2016, with none in 2015.
The motion rightly draws attention to the considerable variety of trades in Germany that have apprenticeship qualifications and to the narrow range of trades that we have. I support the comprehensive motion before us. I agree with links between third level colleges and industry. We need to encourage more apprenticeship schemes in national and local government, and I note the reference in the motion to the Oireachtas. I also support the call to have SOLAS create a specific apprenticeship unit to drive the process of recruiting more apprentices.
Like other Deputies, I have had experience down the years of young people not getting a sponsor, even when they were part of the way through the current system of college and on-site training. The point the motion makes about the large technology companies also taking a role in this is vital. I warmly support the motion.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this motion today. I thank Fianna Fáil for putting forward this motion of great importance.
No doubt there is a lack of young people taking up apprenticeships. The recent Construction Industry Federation report, Trades and Apprenticeships Skills Survey, identifies the lack of skilled tradespeople and apprenticeships as small firms struggle to take on apprentices. In this report, they state that this is a clear warning sign for the Government and for the construction sector.
In a recent newspaper article in west Cork, Mr. John Whelton of Whelton Construction in Clonakilty stated, "There is a lack of people taking up apprenticeships and this is having a major knock-on within the building industry." John also suggested:
There needs to be a programme of incentives in the Budget to support the promotion of apprenticeships across all the trades. There is an upturn in construction but we have to support employers and apprentices to ensure that we can face the challenges ahead. We also need help within the planning process and a scheme to keep material costs from sky-rocketing so that we can build the homes that people need in West Cork.
I could not agree more with John's comments.
We know only too well that housing supply levels remain way below what is required. The problem here is not money. Budget 2019 is supposed to have thrown a lot more money at the crisis. The problem is in breaking through the layers of bureaucracy and delay and translating funding allocations into actual building.
If the Government wants to see more people taking up trades, it will have to give better support to young people. Eoghan Ó Murchadha, the assistant head of the department of craft, design and construction and a full-time teacher of carpentry and joinery in Dún Laoghaire Further Education Institute, has warned that we are experiencing a skills gap, it can be dealt with, there are recommendations and we do not want this to develop into a skills loss.
The Government needs to take action now. We have seen a similar situation in Britain where they are still trying to recover their apprenticeship model a generation later. This is a warning for the future of construction in Ireland. A skills loss is a crisis waiting to happen, and if it does happen, we will see trades' rates and prices increase, with the consumer taking the hit.
A significant concern that needs to be addressed is that contractors feel that the legislative and Government requirements around apprenticeships are burdensome and putting them under pressure. The Government needs to tackle this crisis now and not wait for the problem to escalate further.
I, too, thank Fianna Fáil for bringing this important topic to the fore here today. There is a shortage of people with skills in the building industry, such as plasterers, block layers, carpenters, electricians or plumbers. Clearly, there is a deficit and it needs to be addressed.
At an early age in the secondary schools there should be some discussion with students to enlighten them that to have a skill or a trade is important. I am not saying that people should not go to third level college, but it is not for everyone. There is a place for everyone on this planet. There is a place for those who go to college but there is also a place for those with skills and trades.
There is definitely a shortage of people to build houses. As I said, electricians, plumbers, block layers, plasterers and carpenters are scarce. It is driving up the cost of building houses. We have spoken often in this Chamber about the housing crisis. When a company's tender is successful, whether to build one house, 20 houses or 100 houses, the problem arises of having access to people with the skills available because the jobs may be in one part of the county or the country and skilled people and tradespeople are needed to do the work. Since the bust, we have a reduced workforce. It is made up, by and large, of older people, with fewer of them, and they are doing the work now because we do not have skilled people.
Likewise, there is definitely a shortage of drivers, whether lorry drivers or bus drivers. I myself know how hard it is to get drivers because we have a small company. There should be advice and assistance given to teenagers coming up. It is costly to do the driving test to be a lorry driver, an articulated lorry driver or a large coach driver and young fellows do not have that kind of funding available to them at that stage in their lives. They need assistance and the Government should be providing some financial assistance or supports to help them to become qualified in whatever field.
For example, we talked about excavator drivers, who are very scarce. There is much that we legislators and politicians, in particular the Government, could do to help these people to give them choice. This should be relayed to them before they go to college. If they go to college, they usually stay three or four years, and it is hard to ask them to go back for another year or two before starting out life in the trades or becoming part of the skilled workforce.
The Construction Industry Federation is calling for more apprenticeships to fill the gap. It states that 3,000 new apprenticeships are needed every year, but only one third of that number of places is being taken up. We should be doing something to encourage them. As I said, if there is a shortage of builders, mechanics and so on, it will drive up the cost of everything. There is a real need to address the issue of apprenticeships and young people in the trades and other skilled operations that have to be carried out to keep our country running.
The hospitality industry is very important. We need an increasing number of staff in that area but it is becoming increasingly difficult to get those staff. In my local newspaper last week, I saw that a local restaurant in Killorglin was not going to operate for certain hours of the day because it could not get staff to keep it going. The owners decided that as they could not get the staff, they would cut the hours and provide fewer meals in the restaurant.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute and I compliment Deputy Thomas Byrne on putting forward the motion. We have to deal with the issue of apprenticeships, which are fundamental to our society. Great importance has been put on tradespeople, which was the word used in the past, and these people provided a massive service and enhanced our society.
There has been a lack of engagement by the Department and the Government to encourage apprenticeships. While the ethos within second level schools is to want third level education, there is a gap. In the past generation, many who went on to do apprenticeships have done very well in the workforce. The old saying was that those who started on the factory floor became the best managers because they went right through the system. There needs to be a discussion around people having to start on the factory floor and work their way through whatever the apprenticeship may be. Many people have gone on to build very successful businesses and livelihoods for themselves from the trades. We need to start at second level and show what types of apprenticeships are available and where there is a growth path in employment.
We need to be very careful to make sure we encourage people. Many have honed their skills at a particular craft and have gone on to be very creative and have enhanced society enormously, but we are in danger of losing that. The motion strikes at a fundamental issue, which is to encourage more men and women into apprenticeships because our society needs this as it moves forward.
Like my colleagues, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion brought forward by Deputy Thomas Byrne. As Deputy Michael Moynihan said, we need to promote apprenticeships, which are of massive value to the economy and to the people doing the apprenticeships, who have the chance of progressing to have their own business. One of the ways this can be promoted better is through career guidance in second level schools. It should become a priority in career guidance to promote the whole ethos behind apprenticeships, how people can benefit from them and what they are about.
There is major need for apprenticeships in the construction sector, for example, in carpentry, plumbing, electrics and bricklaying, but this is also the case in other sectors. I come from Kildare North, where the food sector is massive, and it would benefit greatly from the enhancement of apprenticeship schemes. IT companies like Hewlett Packard and Intel would also benefit from such schemes if they were properly rolled out and put in place. Employers can benefit and there are advantages to them through the apprenticeship schemes. We need to be more creative, however, in terms of having financial initiatives for apprentices. We could tie that back in so that when people qualify in whatever profession they pursue, they would have committed to give back to the State, say, three years in that profession as a payback for the financial incentive they would get for doing the apprenticeship in the first place. This might be worth exploring.
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection can also play a major role with people on jobseeker's payments in terms of encouraging them towards apprenticeships. Not everybody is for the academic route. People benefit from dual learning and some who learn from both the academic route as well as practical experience can learn easier and quicker, and can retain the information and can then become better qualified as a result. That is where we need to focus and show initiative.
I welcome the Government's acceptance of the motion put forward by Deputy Thomas Byrne. We all know of the invaluable role played by AnCO many decades ago in producing some of the best qualified block layers, electricians and carpenters. We must do something to make this an attractive career path again. There is a housing crisis yet builders tell us they cannot get people to do the work. We need some kind of incentive to make these jobs attractive again. Given my background in agriculture, I know we had the farm apprenticeships scheme but even that is under pressure. We need to get people who are prepared to do this kind of work by making it attractive for them.
I would make one suggestion. We see the universities trying to bring in students from abroad to fill spaces. Will the Department consider that other nationals would come to this country to take up apprenticeship courses? There is a big deficit at present. I ask that these areas be considered.
Apprenticeships have an essential role to play in our economy and society on many different levels. The more I have learned about apprenticeships in the past two and a half years on the Joint Committee on Education and Skills, the more I am convinced of their value. There is no doubt they provide very structured training programmes, helping young people gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their chosen industry. They offer a varied learning experience while allowing people to earn money. There are excellent progression opportunities within the apprenticeship schemes and a wealth of choices for young people.
Fianna Fáil has been advocating for change in the way apprenticeships are structured to make them accessible, affordable and attractive. We also need to consider parity of esteem. One gets the sense that the view is that students should be progressing to third level education as opposed to further education. We have a body of work to do around proving the attractiveness of this scheme and learning the lessons of the problems experienced in Germany. An apprenticeship is often viewed as the poor relation in terms of students going that route as opposed to going to university. I am convinced of the value of apprenticeships. The Joint Committee on Education and Skills will hold hearings with relevant stakeholders on 15 and 20 November on what can be done to increase the take up in apprenticeships by young people and older people. There are opportunities for people going into apprenticeships not directly after they leave school.
It is difficult to believe that the 2017 target for new business led apprenticeships was missed by a massive 58%. As of 30 September 2018, only 27% of the target had been reached, which is an appalling indictment. These are very disappointing statistics, exacerbated by the fact that women represent only 2% of the apprentice population. There is a lot more to do in this area.
This country never seems to be able to anticipate what is foreseeable and to do anything about it. What I find extraordinary is that people did not accept that what happened in terms of the downturn was akin to a bungee jump in that the further down the building industry went the higher up it had to jump. We now have a massive accumulation of under-performance in terms of building houses for our people and all other types of premises that are needed. When we got over all of the planning difficulties, we were faced with a huge skills shortage. Amazingly, this was not anticipated. It is not possible to produce blocklayers, plumbers, electricians and so on quickly, which are hugely in demand skills. We are trying to ramp up the building industry here but there are no construction workers available to it. What I find disconcerting is that when people do take up apprenticeships - I commend the small companies which are again taking on apprentices - they discover there is a logjam in accessing the colleges, including the institute of technology in the constituency of the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, and courses to enable them to progress to the next phase of their apprenticeship. The logjams need to be addressed urgently. We need to ensure people can access apprenticeships and also ensure the training to allow them progress with the academic part of their apprenticeships is available in the educational establishments.
I thank Fianna Fáil for this constructive motion on apprenticeships. I have no problem with incorporating some of its proposals in the Action Plan for Apprenticeships 2016-2020. I will try to address as many of the points made as I can but I urge people to read the action plan.
I assure the House that the Government is committed to supporting increased registration of apprenticeships across all sectors. One of the key commitments in the action plan is the expansion of apprenticeships and traineeships to 50,000 enrolments by 2020, almost doubling the current levels of activity. Over the lifetime of the plan, more than 40 new apprenticeships and 30 new traineeships will be delivered. To date, 17 new apprenticeship programmes are operational following the Apprenticeship Council's two call outs in 2015 and 2017. These new programmes span a variety of sectors, ranging from financial services, bio-pharma, ICT and hospitality and further new apprenticeships will get underway in 2018 and 2019 in various areas, including construction, engineering, horticulture and agriculture. Year on year, we are exceeding the targets for registrations on craft trades. However, it is important to note that not all craft trades have recovered to the same extent. There is ongoing engagement between SOLAS and the construction industry stakeholders on support for some of the lower volume trades, including on proposals to develop the model of shared apprenticeship. Members will be aware that previously apprenticeships were in the areas of plastering, bricklaying, carpentry and so on. Much of this activity collapsed following the collapse in the construction sector, all of which occurred before this Government came to power. Statistics show that during the boom in construction many companies, because they needed to get buildings constructed quickly, did not take on apprentices but instead hired subcontractors to do the work. One cannot blame the Government for this, but it was a problem. The generation of apprenticeships national promotion campaign has been under way since 2017, led by the Apprenticeship Council in co-operation with SOLAS. It promotes apprenticeships on television, radio and social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It has been designed to influence parents, teachers and potential apprentices on the career paths and further educational opportunities arising from apprenticeship programmes.
There will be a stepped up focus on employers in the second phase of the national promotion campaign. The Apprenticeship Council is currently engaging with industry sectors to gather feedback on apprenticeship provision, to discuss practical challenges as well as opportunities emerging and plans for the future. It will also give consortia direct access to the council's guidance and support which will ensure the sustainability of newly developed apprenticeships. Work is also under way on pre-apprenticeship provision. I am informed by SOLAS that it is currently engaged with key stakeholders in considering relevant pathways and opportunities for pre-apprenticeship initiatives, including the craft trades. We must ensure that apprenticeships are accessible to everyone. SOLAS has completed its review of the paths to apprenticeships, which is available on its website. The purpose of the review is to ensure that our national apprenticeship system is reflective of the range of diversity in the population, more inclusive of diverse backgrounds and abilities and that apprenticeship opportunities are more readily accessible to all. My Department will continue to work with SOLAS and apprenticeship partners and stakeholders to progress areas identified for action.
The Government is committed to supporting the expansion of the apprenticeship and traineeship system. To this end, it has increased the 2019 budget allocation for apprenticeship training by 16% to €142 million and the traineeship budget by almost 17% to €47.9 million. Apprenticeships have received a lot of media attention in the last few days, with the launch of two new apprenticeships in the bio-pharma and technology analyst and technician sectors, 200 craft apprentices being presented with advanced certificates and, in Waterford, with the first new industry-led apprentices receiving their degree in industrial electrical engineering.
I will try to address some of the issues raised. Other countries, including Germany and Austria, were mentioned. One has to take into account the size of a country, the size of its economy, its population and so on. There are some countries relevant to Ireland that are doing very well. One has also to take account of the particular industry of a country. For example, there is a big steel and car manufacturing industry in Germany. We do not have those types of industries here and so we do not have apprenticeships in those areas. Also, when a country reaches full employment or is 5% or 6% off full employment there is a difficulty attracting apprenticeships with call outs.
Someone - I think one of the Sinn Féin Deputies - asked about Bord na Móna. There are apprenticeships in Bord na Móna in automation, plant-fitting and so on. There is no doubt that we have some difficulties in gender accessibility and diversity. All 29 apprenticeships - electrical instrumentation and insurance practice being two - are open to all genders. We have a difficulty with a low take-up by female apprentices and are dealing with the reasons for this as best we can with all of the relevant agencies. I will give the House some statistics in that regard. In 2015 we had 16 female participants; in 2016 we had 60; in 2017, 145 and this year, 323. The figure is small, but it is growing substantially. I think we will be able to deal with the issue.
Fianna Fáil Deputies raised a number of issues, including the apprenticeship promotional campaign. A promotional campaign for Generation Apprenticeship has been under way since 2017 and is led by the Apprenticeship Council with the co-operation of SOLAS. The second phase of the Generation Apprenticeship campaign is under way. Furthermore, ETBs and SOLAS are working to implement the PLC review recommendation of 500 pre-apprenticeship places in PLC colleges, which will promote and enhance access to apprenticeships for under-represented groups. The independent review of career guidance being carried out by Indecon international consultants will examine the quality and range of information and resources available to students in schools and other settings.
Considering from where we have come, compared with where we are today, and given the devastation of the apprenticeship sector in the past ten to 15 years, we have advanced significantly in apprenticeships. The targets, for instance, have been exceeded. The annual targets for apprenticeship registrations are set out in the action plan which I have asked Deputies to examine. The 2016 apprenticeship registration target was exceeded, with 3,821 apprenticeships registered. It represented a 317% increase on the low of 1,024 apprenticeships in 2010. Although the upper trend continues, with a total of 4,843 new registrations, comprising 4,508 craft and 335 new, in 2017, we did not reach our target of 800 new registrations in a total of 15 new apprenticeships. We did, however, exceed our target of 4,147 registrations in craft apprenticeships. At the end of October 2018 there were 4,655 apprentice registrations, comprising 4,135 registrations for craft-based apprenticeships and 520 registrations for new programmes. As I said, some of the proposals Fianna Fáil has made are very constructive and my Department and I will most certainly look at them in the coming weeks. As I said, we have the action plan for apprenticeships 2016 to 2020 and are all the time dealing with and talking to stakeholders and listening to what people and companies say.
We make call-outs on all apprenticeships, but it is sometimes very difficult to direct the people one wants to see in a particular apprenticeship to go into it. We can do all we can - advertise it, go to schools and businesses, as we do, put it up on websites and so on - but when one make a call-out, one relies on people stepping up to say they want to participate in the apprenticeship. Deputies often come to me to say there are old apprenticeships, skills and crafts that are being lost and ask whether we could try to reinvigorate them. I say yes. Those Deputies should come forward with a number of people who might be interested in the apprenticeship, skill or craft, whether it be thatching or something else, and we will see whether we can get an apprenticeship programme going for that skill.
I again thank Fianna Fáil. I would have liked to have had a lot more time to speak to the motion. We will not oppose it because we believe there are some elements of it that are practical and constructive and can be added to the action plan for apprenticeships 2016 to 2020.
I thank my colleague, Deputy Thomas Byrne, for giving me the opportunity to speak to the motion. As a former chairperson of the Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board, GRETB, in Galway, I understand the value of the apprenticeship programme. I attended an awards ceremony for young people who had come through the crisis and whose employers had stood with them when there was a downturn in the economy. At the time there were only 110 employers who were in a position to take on young people. They will reap the rewards now that they have stuck with it. However, we must also consider that it is not just about trades. We must look at heavy goods vehicle, HGV, mechanics and chefs. Employers are very much crying out for HGV mechanics land we cannot find them anywhere across Europe. We have industry that will support the trades, but even the likes of the large bin companies in Dublin are on their knees in looking for HGV mechanics and apprentices. I know that they have approached various ETBs about the matter. Perhaps this is something the Minister of State is embracing. If so, it is welcome because the matter is very important.
Another element that might feed into the reason there is such a low uptake by females might be adult literacy. We need to look at it because it seems one in six people struggle with adult literacy. I wonder if this plays a part in the issue. When we talk about apprenticeship programmes and people making it all the way through their education, perhaps not everyone will get through at a high level. The National Adult Literacy Agency has done a lot of work on this issue and a lot of statistics, into which the Minister of State should reach.
I compliment my colleague, Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin. As she said, we want apprenticeships to be accessible and affordable. We need to focus on second level education because while the drive is for Central Applications Office points, there are other ways to gain job opportunities than through third level education.
Ireland has lagged well behind other European countries during the years in both the scale and the diversity of apprenticeships available. We have seen that we fell short of last year's target by 58%, while in September we were only about one third of the way to this year's target. Apprenticeships are not seen as a viable or attractive option. Across Europe there is much more emphasis placed on the importance of apprenticeships and vocational training. There is also greater variety and apprenticeships seem to have much greater standing. There is a need to place more emphasis on them in Ireland. We also need to broaden the range of options available. For example, there are spaces in fibre-optics, journalism, digital media and so many others. The list is unlimited. There are companies that operate in various countries around the world that might, for example, offer apprenticeships in business management or computer science. They are operating here and do not have that option available to them. It would be worthwhile for the Minister of State and his departmental officials to meet them to see if there are ways by which those industry-led apprenticeships would also be available in Ireland. The value of apprenticeships needs to be promoted by the Government in public as a worthwhile training development option.
Another point which has been well made concerns the number of women involved in apprenticeships. At 2%, it is very low. It contrasts with the figure for the United Kingdom, where last year 54% of those who started an apprenticeship were women. This is not an isolated incident because every year since 2011 more women have been taking on apprenticeships in England than men. Clearly, the same can be achieved in Ireland. There is a need for a change of attitude and perception and a broadening of the options available to those seeking apprenticeships.
As a democratic Government that represents the people, how can the Government not support devices such as apprenticeships that are so beneficial to citizens? It is disheartening that, as a group in society that makes up such a large proportion of the population, only 2% of participants in apprenticeships are female. There are many apprenticeship fields, but as of 24 October this year there were fewer than ten female participants. Another ostracised group that would benefit from an expansion of apprenticeships is the 1.5% of apprentices who are listed as having a disability.
Besides the issue of representation, there is also the matter of the number of people registered into specific fields. In the hospitality and food sector, for example, there were only 114 registrations by the end of September 2018, and in the field of fibre optics, there were only 32 registrations. In that area, there is a company in County Kerry called Transmission Links Ireland, TLI, that provides those 32 registrations and full employment every year. It could double or treble its output. If we are to deliver broadband, and we are arguing about contracts and signing contracts, and if we do not have the people to do the work when the contracts are signed, it is going to remain in the same place.
We need to provide greater diversity through encouraging and supporting businesses, no matter the size or field, to offer apprenticeships. We need to explore the idea of pre-apprenticeship training in schools and better promotion of apprenticeships to the public and especially excluded groups. We also need to improve the infrastructure of apprenticeships in respect of SOLAS and the establishment of apprenticeship offices. We need an improved structure in place that makes apprenticeships attractive, accessible and affordable to both employees and apprentices alike.
I thank the Government for not opposing this motion and I thank the House for its widespread support for the spirt and terms of the motion. Apprenticeships have a vital role to play in Ireland's future. The outstanding apprentices whom we, at the Joint Committee on Education and Skills, and the Minister of State meet who represent the country at the Ireland Skills and World Skills events every year are testament to the impact apprentices can have on the labour force.
The truth, however, is that apart from that and apart from showing excellence, and it is important to show excellence, apprenticeships do not get the coverage they deserve. I will be constructive in my criticism of the promotion of apprenticeships. The Minister mentioned a website and Twitter. The Apprenticeship Council Twitter account is a corporate account. That is fine if the Apprenticeship Council wants to tell us about what the former Minister, Deputy Bruton, did for apprentices. I have no problem with that. If I am a young person looking to find an apprenticeship, however, I am not going to get information from the Apprentice Council Twitter account.
Turning to the website, I can find any of the information I want on the technical details of apprenticeships, the legal requirements, the fees etc. That is all there. If I go to the UK version of the website, it is very simple. It is "search for an apprenticeship". We need to get to that and away from the corporate websites promoting what corporate is doing. We need to make it something that is apprentice focused. The Twitter account is not apprentice focused.
I have no difficulty with SOLAS having a corporate Twitter account or promoting what is happening. That is fine but it needs to have a Twitter account that is geared to apprentices and the Twitter account I mentioned is not. The website is not either. I mean that in the most constructive way possible. That is what we are trying to get changes. I refer to this being apprentice focused. The apprentices who are online at home must be able to get the information they need in a crisp and accessible way. I know the Minister of State has contradicted us a bit on Germany and Austria, but the truth is we are not going to be able to reach what those countries are doing in short order. I know that but we have got to reach the perception of the status that apprenticeships have in those countries. Those are some of the most important industrialised countries in the world and the most important research countries in the world. We have to be there.
Our only interest is that that goal and that perception are met and done. As has been mentioned by many, apprenticeships in the construction sector have to happen. There is an issue with work, with small companies not being able to provide it and big companies not providing it when they should. We need many more apprentices in the construction sector to meet building targets and to get our people housed. There are major occupational shortages in areas such as shuttering, carpenters, shift managers, steel erectors, pipe layers, glaziers etc. Young people need a clear avenue to grasp the opportunities that are there and we need to provide them.
Work must begin now on ramping up the number of apprenticeships across the board to meet demand. For too long the Irish education system has leaned on academic achievement as a way of career and development opportunity. That is all of us. We all aspire for our children to go to college and to get the diploma, the degree or whatever it is, but we have got to get that message out there that the level 8 apprenticeship is a degree. It is exactly equivalent to a degree and it is another way of doing it. If that message is out there and seeps in, then things will change radically and employers will also become more interested.
The time has come to take apprenticeships seriously as a way of further boosting the economy. In preparation for the challenges we face with Brexit, in housing and in meeting the skills shortages in hospitality and healthcare, apprenticeships must be placed in the position they deserve. I appeal to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission while the Ceann Comhairle is here. The House of Commons has a fantastic system. Deputy Barry has mentioned political interference. It has nothing to do with politics whatsoever. It is done in Britain within the structure of the Civil Service and that is what needs to happen here. The Houses of the Oireachtas needs to send out a message, whether it is to people who are learning to be chefs or learning accountancy or financial management. Those types of apprenticeships are offered in the House of Commons. We need to get to that situation because that is one way we will send out that signal that things have changed utterly for the better for young people.