Seanad debates

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Schools Building Projects

FÁS Training Programmes.

7:00 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this matter. Much has been said today about retraining and upskilling in this economic climate but the plight of redundant apprentices is as important. Many Members of both Houses have been approached by apprentices who are concerned their training programmes are in jeopardy.

Approximately 3,600 apprentices are redundant. The number of new apprentices entering the workforce is down 39%, with construction related apprenticeships down 54%. The fall in apprentice registrations has occurred in tandem with a rise in youth unemployment, the under 25 age group, which is staggering and frightening.

In September the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment announced the employer-based redundant apprentice rotation scheme, but it only covers a proportion of apprentices. Deputy Leo Varadkar, the Fine Gael enterprise, trade and employment spokesman, suggested the scheme seven months before the Tánaiste when he realised the number of apprentices on the live register between January and July 2007 had trebled. What will happen to the plan when it runs out at the end of 2009? With the number of apprentices being made redundant in the past 12 months, is the plan sufficient to cater for the majority of them? The Government often speaks of upskilling the workforce and developing a knowledge-based economy. What plans are in place for apprentices?

I welcome the ESB's announcement today that it will take on 400 redundant apprentices, a great move by it in a week when it was lambasted for allowing a pay rise. The company's chief executive, Pádraig McManus, was correct when he stated that without full qualifications, apprentices would not be able to work as electricians. If we are serious about upskilling and educational qualifications, we need to allow young people who have signed up for a trade to finish their training. In Cork city, up to 6,000 people have lost their jobs in the past year, a 75% increase in a year, and many of them were apprentices. Up to 3,600 apprentices across the country are unable to complete their training and earn their qualifications. In December, a scheme was announced to allow 500 of them to conclude their training. Having these apprentices out of work does not assist their practical training. What other initiatives will be introduced to allow FÁS apprentices to finish their training and to be employable when the economic upturn occurs?

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Since the beginning of last year a significant contraction has occurred in activity in the construction sector. Consequently, as a result of this contraction, we have witnessed a substantial reduction in the numbers of people employed in the construction sector in the past 12 months. This has had a severe impact on the individuals undertaking an apprenticeship.

The scale of the downturn in the construction sector is clear when it is considered that at the end of last month the apprenticeship population was 22,561. Last year, the apprenticeship population was 28,252, a 20% reduction in 12 months. In addition to this decrease, by the end of last month FÁS had been notified of 3,695 apprentices being made redundant. The high level of redundant apprentices is of particular concern given the structure of the apprenticeship system. It is a demand-driven educational and training programme for employed people aimed at developing the skills of the apprentice to meet the needs of industry and the labour market. It consists of seven phases divided into four on-the-job and three off-the-job phases.

An apprentice is required to be employed to complete the necessary on-the-job training. The on-the-job training is designed to enable the apprentice to develop the skill, knowledge and competence to reach the required level of mastery in his or her trade. This implies that apprentices who have been made redundant are, therefore, not in a position to complete their apprenticeship. The Government is aware of the difficult situation in which redundant apprentices find themselves. It is committed to assisting redundant apprentices to gain employment as soon as possible in Ireland or abroad to complete their apprentices.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Education and Science have been working closely with FÁS, the institutes of technology, the Higher Education Authority and the social partners in introducing measures to address the problems confronting redundant apprentices.

The measures introduced to date comprise the Department of Social and Family Affairs immediately referring redundant apprentices to FÁS for assistance. Following this immediate referral, the FÁS employment services and FÁS services to business divisions work in collaboration to assist the apprentice source a new approved employer to allow completion of the apprenticeship as soon as possible. To date, FÁS has succeeded in securing alternative employment for 1,081 apprentices made redundant.

However, more than 3,600 apprentices remain redundant. In the absence of options for workplace experience, FÁS has put in place an interim measure whereby apprentices who are made redundant can progress to the next off-the-job training phase in the education sector. This means the apprentice does not need to do the on-the-job phase and can go directly to the next off-the-job phase, in line with the current scheduling criteria. At the end of last year, a total of 439 redundant apprentices were attending an off-the-job phase — phases 2, 4 and 6 — under this interim measure. A further 505 redundant apprentices are scheduled to attend one of these phases in the coming months.

FÁS is also examining what advantages can be offered by EU-sponsored programmes that facilitate mobility for workers and apprentices. For example, in October of last year, it was successful in responding to a national call for mobility projects under the Leonardo da Vinci programme, the EU's vocational educational training programme. As a result, approximately 25 redundant apprentices will complete a period of on-the-job training in suitable European companies, thereby facilitating the completion of their apprenticeships.

In addition to these measures, at the end of last year the Tánaiste announced the launch of a new FÁS initiative — the employer-based redundant apprentice rotation scheme — aimed at providing the necessary on-the-job experience for redundant apprentices. The purpose of the scheme in question is to give up to 500 redundant apprentices the opportunity to complete the on-the-job phase of their apprenticeships to gain the required knowledge, skill and competence to progress successfully to the next off-the-job phase or to complete their apprenticeships. Employers with a past record of providing consistent systematic training are being asked to provide redundant apprentices with an opportunity to complete their on-the-job phase in the following five trades: carpentry and joinery, electrical, plastering, plumbing and bricklaying.

The scheme works on the basis that FÁS will place redundant apprentices with an eligible employer. These individuals will replace any existing apprentices who have been released to attend scheduled off-the-job phase of their apprenticeships. The employers in question will provide the necessary workplace training and assessment to the redundant apprentices. The scheme will support redundant apprentices on-the-job training relating to phases 3, 5 and 7. Employers participating in the scheme are required to pay apprentices the agreed industry rates for the specific apprenticeship trades they are pursuing and FÁS will make a contribution of €340 per week — based on a 39-hour working week — towards employment costs incurred. The total cost of the scheme will be in the order of €4 million and this will support the provision of training for up to 500 redundant apprentices. FÁS is in the process of recruiting employers and redundant apprentices to the scheme and it expects that approximately 85 redundant apprentices will commence their on-the-job experience under the scheme in the coming weeks.

I am pleased that the ESB announced earlier today a programme under which it will begin training a total of 400 redundant electrical apprentices. This represents 50% of the estimated total of 800 electrical apprentices who have lost their jobs. Under the programme, which was agreed with FÁS, ESB Networks will provide the necessary on-the-job training opportunities for redundant apprentices from next month. This vital programme will assist these 400 redundant electrical apprentices to complete their apprenticeships. I congratulate all parties involved in organising this important initiative.

In light of the wide variety and comprehensive nature of the measures I have outlined, it is clear the Government is responding quickly to the pressing issue of redundant apprentices. The significant steps the Government has taken are aimed specifically at assisting redundant apprentices to progress and complete their apprenticeships. The measures I have outlined will lead to approximately 1,900 redundant apprentices being given the opportunity to progress their apprenticeships in the coming months.

The Government remains committed to assisting redundant apprentices in this particularly difficult period. We will, in conjunction with the appropriate agencies and social partners, continue to explore what further positive options might be available to assist our redundant apprentices in the short to medium term.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank the Minister of State for his reply and I welcome the initiatives that have been put in place. However, there are a number of people who will not be able to conclude their training. What is planned in respect of these individuals? In light of the situation with regard to apprenticeships, what does the Government intend to do to entice people to become apprentices and to attract sponsors for them? The Government has not outlined a clear vision or plan in this regard.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

This matter is being examined on an ongoing basis and as developments arise. I outlined what we have done to date but the situation obviously is being kept under constant review.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

There is no plan for the 1,700 who will not be able to conclude their training.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 11 February 2009.