Wednesday, 13 October 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
5. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the number of the 10,000 new apprentice registrations promised per year by 2025 that will be earmarked as craft apprenticeships pursuant to the Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021 to 2025; the analysis his Department has carried out with regard to identifying the sectors most in need of apprentices particularly in view of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50133/21]
My question relates to the apprenticeship action plan and the target of 10,000 new apprentice registrations by 2025. How many of these will be earmarked as craft apprenticeships and what analysis has been done of the requirements of the various sectors for the different types of apprentice?
I thank the Deputy for her question. As she is aware, the development and promotion of apprenticeships is a significant Government priority in responding to the key skill needs across the economy. These requirements are identified through work carried out to project workforce and skills needs in key economic sectors. In particular, the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs plays a crucial role in analysing future skill needs in areas such as construction to meet housing and climate action targets. I understand that the analysis carried out by the expert group of workforce requirements relating to construction and securing a zero-carbon economy indicates that between 5,000 and 8,000 workers will be required annually to 2025 for those roles for which the existing craft apprenticeships are a key qualification pathway.
Apprenticeship provides a route to re-employment and skills development for workers affected by adverse economic and labour market impacts of Covid-19. In addition, it constitutes a pathway to upskill those in sectors that are vulnerable to structural change in the wake of the pandemic. A key objective of the Government's Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-2025 is to ensure the apprenticeship system is equipped to meet these skills and human capital requirements, as well as those arising from the accelerating pace of green and digital transformation. The plan is intended to drive the further development of apprenticeship in order to increase its attractiveness to employers in meeting their workforce requirements. In considering the important role played by apprenticeship in responding to these needs, it should be noted that apprenticeship is an employer-led offering. The number of apprentices in any sector is therefore determined directly by employer demand. The plan is thus designed to deliver a flexible and responsive apprenticeship system which is attractive and easy to engage with for employers and potential apprentices and which delivers high standards of sought-after qualifications.
I thank the Minister of State. I have read the plan. I welcomed the plan. I asked what analysis has been done in regard to the number of craft apprentices within the figure of 10,000 per year. That is one question. My second question asked what analysis has been done of the requirements of different sectors. We all know that we are facing a climate change crisis and that there will be huge possibilities in that sector for apprentices, as well as in the housing sector. The Minister of State did not really answer my question. I appreciate that he is doing his best, but we are looking at a situation where the drop-out rate for apprentices is one in five. What analysis has been done on that? In July 2021, there were 10,000 people on waiting lists for off-the-job training. The craft apprentices had waited one year. I do not expect things to change overnight, because I know there was Covid-19, but prior to Covid-19 there was a housing crisis and a climate crisis. What plan and what analysis had been done prior to that on the need to target apprenticeships as a priority?
An integral part of the Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-2025 is the establishment of the national apprenticeship office and a stakeholder group to inform that office in doing its work of co-ordinating and researching the particular demands of the whole apprenticeship area. I have already referred to the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs. The development of any apprenticeship is a collaboration between SOLAS, employers, industries and trade unions. We have existing craft apprenticeships. The figures on estimated demand, which I quoted in my first response, arise from the report of the expert group. Housing for All has been taken into consideration in that regard. There are a number of new apprenticeships in development. There are 62 existing apprenticeships, and there are about 18 in development. Another 20, approximately, at the exploratory stage.
Has the national apprentice office actually been set up? Has it been resourced? If so, when was it set up? Please can the Minister of State confirm that? What is the plan to deal with the existing waiting list of 10,000 people? There are huge implications here for the apprentice’s money and educational pathways. I have the privilege of coming from a large family. We had a variation of vocations and jobs in our house. I know exactly the value of this. The problem with different governments was that they did not value apprentices. They did not value the trades. They put an emphasis on information technology. While that was good, it was to the detriment of trades. I have abhorred that all my life. Hopefully, this will now change, but I am a little bit doubtful as to the urgency of the Government’s reaction. Of course, we are dependent on employers, but we need leadership from the Government to value the trades, to put them on a level that is appropriate and to fund them.
I could not agree with the Deputy more. The Minister, Deputy Harris, and I have taken every opportunity to seek to promote the whole area of apprenticeships. In conjunction with the action plan, we are taking concrete steps to embed apprenticeship offerings and further education and training options into the Central Applications Office, CAO, process. This will mainstream apprenticeships and destigmatise them. There is a suite of actions contained within the action plan to address gender balance, for example, and to promote more diversity in participation across the apprenticeships. We want to mainstream and showcase apprenticeships as rewarding and worthwhile career paths.
The Deputy referenced backlogs in off-the-job training.
We are acutely aware of that situation. The Deputy will be aware that it arose because of the challenges presented by Covid-19. We have also resourced SOLAS in the area of craft apprenticeships to address this backlog. We expect 40% of it to be gone by the end of the year and that everybody will be back to off-the-job training by next year. A director for the national apprenticeship office will be appointed in November and the office will be up and running shortly after.