Thursday, 19 May 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
109. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the way that apprenticeship training will help meet the targets of the new national retrofitting scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25272/22]
I am taking this question on behalf of Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan. This is in respect of the targets of the national retrofitting scheme and comes back to some of the discussion around apprenticeships. There is a commitment to get an extra 2,600 places in the nearly zero energy building apprenticeship. What is the position with that target? Is the Minister confident it will be met?
I thank the Deputies for the question. A range of skills are needed to support delivery of the new national retrofit scheme, including general operatives, those with short retrofit-related courses, craft apprentices and those with professional qualifications in areas such as architecture and engineering. Consequently, education and training relevant to the skills needed for retrofitting targets are delivered across the full remit of the tertiary sector system, through mainstream education and training as well as through specific programmes such as Springboard, the human capital initiative and Skillnet Ireland.
Among the 65 apprenticeships available, retrofit activity is included in a range of construction-related programmes. Curricula are regularly updated to keep pace with changes in industry and regulations.
Recognising the diversity of skills required for retrofit and the variety of apprenticeships available, it is considered that current training options offer a more agile and effective way to meet labour and skills needs in a way that meets quality standards rather than requiring a dedicated apprenticeship programme.
In the further education and training sector, there are some 50 programmes in areas such as green skills and sustainability, which include retrofits and near-zero energy building, NZEB. The training opportunities are provided by the on-site retrofit programmes in centres of excellence in Laois–Offaly, Waterford–Wexford and Limerick–Clare education and training boards, ETBs. The Minister will open the latest NZEB centre in Limerick on Monday. We intend to open three more, including in Cork. We are really pleased to confirm that we have reached an agreement to open a new centre of excellence in Dublin also.
Ongoing innovation in delivery includes a move to a blended model of training in addition to the development of a pilot virtual-reality programme, which is expected to be operational by the end of the year. It is really important to change the perception. There is no retrofitting apprenticeship, as I stated, but there are courses available to men and women who work in construction-related trades currently. They can last between three days and three weeks.
The target of the national retrofitting scheme is 500,000 houses. It is an extraordinary target. It really needs a Marshall Plan effort to reach it given its complexity. We are nowhere near that. Is there a co-ordination point within the Department to ensure all the courses - the Minister of State mentioned a figure of 60 - are delivering the places we need?
A commitment was made at the beginning of February, at the launch of the national retrofitting scheme, to have 2,650 extra places on the NZEB apprenticeship course. That would bring us up to just under 5,000 by the end of this year. What is the position on that target? The commitment was given on 8 February and it is now 19 May. Are we further on in meeting the target? That is the first target that needs to be met. If it cannot be met, it gives me doubts as to whether we can do what is needed to reach 500,000.
I thank Deputy Calleary. This is of high priority. Our Department is engaged actively and proactively through each of our ETBs. There have been several reports arising from the work of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs and also the work on having a zero-carbon economy. They have produced targets in respect of which we are trying actively to create awareness and ensure that all apprenticeships and course offerings meet, in their built-in modelling, our climate-action requirements, particularly in the retrofitting area.
The wider retrofitting programme, run by the Department of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, will create a one-stop shop for roll-out and delivery. That is part of the linkages and liaison to assess demand.
I reiterate my call for a central point. Someone needs to take charge of this in the Department. The person should be co-ordinating all the activity to ensure somebody has the target in mind.
I note the list of centres the Minister of State gave in his initial answer. There is no centre planned for the west coast. It is all about the midlands. In the west, we have houses that need retrofitting too, and people need to be able to access the centres without considerable expense.
Could the Minister of State revert to me on our progress on places in the NZEB programme?
The ETBs are mentioned only twice in the national apprenticeship plan, which concerns me. I visited Ballina last week. Wonderful work is being done there on apprenticeships in electrical work, butchery and several other trades. We need an office for further education and training and apprenticeships to protect the integrity of the trades. I am really concerned about what I hear. We have a waiting list of 18 months to two years for the warmer homes scheme. We desperately need the skills but I am concerned about the integrity of the apprenticeship courses offered. We really need to manage this properly.
I take it that workshops take time in that refurbishment and procurement are required. We have to speed up the procurement process. We are in such an urgent position. It takes two to three years to go through the process. Could the Minister of State examine this specifically to speed up the process?