Wednesday, 13 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
I tabled this question to give the Minister an opportunity to explain the further expansion of apprenticeships across the country. We have seen many new ones coming on stream in the past number of years. What new ones are being planned? Are there strategies in place to retain apprentices in position once they are employed?
I thank the Deputy. We are committed to significant expansion in apprenticeships to secure the targets set out in the apprenticeship action plan, given the key role of apprenticeship in meeting key workforce needs.
Apprenticeship is a demand-driven educational and training programme, which aims to develop the skills of an apprentice in order to meet the needs of industry and the labour market. The development of new apprenticeships is employer-led, with consortia comprising employer groups and educational providers coming together to identify a skills need and appropriate apprenticeship response in their sector. A defined process, structure, and financial incentive, through the apprenticeship incentivisation scheme, for employers to become engaged in the apprenticeship process is in place. It is open to any industry that wishes to explore options for developing an apprenticeship to bring a proposal forward. The SOLAS guidance document for submitting an initial proposal for a new national apprenticeship, together with its handbook on developing a national apprenticeship, provide an overview of the key features of new apprenticeships, including sectoral engagement and collaboration among enterprises and other stakeholders in the relevant industry. These publications are available on apprenticeship.ie.
There are 62 national apprenticeship programmes currently in operation. This includes 25 craft apprenticeships and 37 programmes introduced since 2016. There are 17 additional new apprenticeship programmes currently in development in sectors such as agriculture, ICT, hospitality, construction, engineering, and commercial driving, with two of these currently scheduled to launch in this year, namely, transport operations and commercial driving, and wind turbine maintenance. In addition, a number of other potential apprenticeships are at an exploratory stage in sectors such as health, beauty, environmental and engineering.
The establishment of the national apprenticeship office is planned by the end of the year to bring a dedicated focus and resources to the programme of work set out in the action plan for apprenticeship aimed at expanding the role played by apprenticeships within the education and training system.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. It is great to see more apprenticeship schemes coming on stream and so many in place. One question that arises is that once the apprentices are in position, why are so many leaving? This is true in the construction area especially, where there is such a significant need for them. I have had a number of responses to parliamentary questions and thank the Minister of State for the information supplied. However, it appears that in some instances one fifth or more of them are leaving. Has any detailed analysis or research been carried out as to why this is happening and whether anything can be done to ensure applicants make the correct choice in the first place and once in there, that they are retained?
As I pointed out to the Deputy, the new national apprenticeship office is to be established and a director appointed this month. That office emerges from the apprenticeship action plan and will act as an umbrella and overseer of the entire apprenticeship landscape. Allied to the national apprenticeship office will be the national apprenticeship alliance, a stakeholder group which will support that office with respect to its future direction and will also support it in terms of the demands of our current apprenticeship offering. It will also deal with issues of dropout that the Deputy raised. Through the Department we have increased the funding and resourcing going into our apprenticeship offering across the apprenticeship landscape and we intend to do that going forward because we recognise promoting apprenticeships and mainstreaming them into our FET sector is hugely important. All those actions which are in the apprenticeship action plan will hopefully address the key concern the Deputy has raised.
Of course it is a concern. The level of dropout from any course is a concern but it is not exclusive to apprenticeships. There are turnover and different dropout rates throughout our third-level sector.
That is just one of the challenges. It is about choice as well. Sometimes, people make a career choice which is not suited to them or does not work out. Our job is to identify the apprenticeships and gaps in the labour force, to identify the skills needs and to work with the employers and consortia on that. We also have to work with the apprentices. We do that by way of trying to support them, especially in their off-the-job training.
I ask the Minister of State for a clarification on the 17 new apprenticeships. There is a wide range from health to beauty and wind energy. Can he clarify whether such a possibility is being considered for childcare, where work placement is in place for people who are training and is supervised? While people are doing those placements, they are fully supervised and they are not counted within staff ratios. There is great difficulty in the childcare sector recruiting and retaining people. Has consideration being given to offering an apprenticeship in childcare or does that opportunity exist?
Some 17 apprenticeships are in development and this will be of interest to Deputy Stanton as well. A further 19 apprenticeships are at an exploratory stage. They are wide and varied and include dental technician, accountancy, artificial intelligence, barbering, beauty and engineering. Deputy Moynihan specifically referenced childcare. The apprenticeship council, SOLAS, and staff at my Department have met and communicated with representatives of the early childcare sector on a number of occasions between 2019 and 2021, to outline the development processes of apprenticeship programmes. To develop an apprenticeship programme, there is a detailed process. It is available on apprenticeship.ieto look at in detail. A workforce development plan for the early learning and care, school-age childcare and childminding sector is being developed by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, in consultation with the Department of Education. It is being looked at and if those groups come together and talk to our Department and SOLAS, that can be explored further.