Thursday, 7 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Employment Support Services
6. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the level of take-up of initiatives which have been put in place to help persons get back to work given that the economy has reopened; and if gaps in the range of supports are emerging. [47853/21]
Everyone in the House appreciates that the economy has gone through massive change. Not only do we still have more than100,000 people in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, many sectors have been changed beyond recognition and will not come back to where they were. The supports for people getting back to work will be crucial. I would be interested in hearing what the take-up is and whether the Minister has identified gaps that need to be addressed.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. As he will be aware, this country faced an unprecedented shock to the labour market as a result of the pandemic. Under pathways to work, the Government's new employment services strategy which was launched last July, my Department has put in place a wide range of measures to assist those who are out of work in finding new jobs. Pathways to work sets out 83 commitments on a whole-of-government basis. The strategy is in the early stages of implementation, with progress expected to accelerate as the final stages of public health restrictions are lifted and the phased transition of PUP recipients to jobseekers' payments starts from next month.
The latest data on the take-up of programmes in my Department are as follows: 90,037 participants in community employment; 5,017 in Tús; 2,594 on the back to work enterprise allowance, including the short term enterprise allowance; 2,771 in receipt of the back to education allowance; 1,921 people availing of the training support grant; and 567 employers funded to support 673 employees via JobsPlus. The new work placement experience programme has been launched and 102 individuals have started or are due to start in the near future. In further delivering on pathways to work, my colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, and I assigned more than 2,600 places on community employment and Tús schemes nationwide at the end of August.
In addition, I am working closely with my colleague, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Simon Harris, to ensure that jobseekers can avail of sustainable training opportunities to assist them in accessing the skills needed to make the next step in their career. Under pathways to work the Minister's Department is committed to providing 50,000 additional education and training places, supporting the delivery of actions set out in the apprenticeship action plan and supporting 50,000 long-term unemployed persons in further education and training by 2025.
It is clear that the commitment is there. The real issue is what is happening to the take-up of those places by those who need them at this time. Specifically, do we need to look afresh at the waiting times for some of these schemes? There are waiting times for many people to participate in back-to-education, back-to-enterprise, start-up and other schemes. Also, we need to see whether there is a network of employers engaging with programmes such as apprenticeships, where work experience and working on the job are crucial. Could some additional effort be put into mobilising both employers and people who need placement over this tricky period, before people go at risk of becoming long-term unemployed?
As the Deputy said, people are getting back to work more quickly than we expected. A few months ago the projections were telling us that we would still have well over 100,000 on the PUP at the end of the year. In fact, we will now fall below the 100,000 mark next week, which will be significant and a important milestone. Some 500,000 people have come off the PUP since the peak. It is our plan in the Department of Social Protection to have job fairs - we had them in the past - at which we will link people who are looking for work with employers. I saw that work very well before. We have a number of different initiatives. We will have a campaign to make employers aware of what is available to them and then, through our job activation measures, we will work with people who are unemployed. The time people spend on the PUP will be counted towards any scheme or training they go on. It is important to say that time spent on the PUP will be taken into account when they are trying to get onto some other scheme.
One category is self-employed people, who have been very disrupted. I know there is a restart support for them, but I think we will have to look closely at those people to see whether they can survive financially and whether a second fillip can be given to that really important part of our workforce.
I am grateful for that. It is a really good question from my colleague, Deputy Bruton. Has the Minister any figures as to what skill sets people who are left claiming the PUP have? I am particularly interested in hospitality. Does the Department have details on that? Dublin is full of half-empty restaurants not because people do not want to book but because of the lack of capacity of the restaurants in question to meet the demand in respect of their kitchen staff. That is why many of the restaurants throughout the city and in the suburbs have vacant tables. It is because they simply cannot get staff. Can the Minister break down how many hospitality people are still claiming the PUP? I presume that is one of the gaps to which Deputy Bruton referred. How can we fill those gaps, encourage those people to return and facilitate employers to take them on?
I do not have those figures to hand, but the biggest number of those who remain on the PUP are in the hospitality sector. Also, the last time I looked there were approximately 10,000 from the construction sector, which is quite a lot when you think about it. As I understand it, however, what the construction sector is looking for is higher skilled workers, and those on the PUP are probably the lower skilled workers or general labourers. This is what pathways to work is about. It is about upskilling and reskilling people, getting them back into the workforce and training them to meet the demands in the jobs that are now available. I have had people from the hospitality sector speak to me about the issue that they cannot get staff. The only problem is that I think many people have returned to their own countries and are no longer here, and I think some of them are not coming back, which creates more difficulties.