Thursday, 19 July 2012
Employment Support Services
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I understand he will respond to me on behalf of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton. An Irish executive from PayPal Ireland publicly announced last week that her company will have to import workers to fill approximately 500 of the 1,000 new jobs it announced earlier this year. She bemoaned the fact that PayPal Ireland has been unable to recruit locally-based workers as a result of the lack of linguistic skills in this country. I emphasise that I welcomed the job announcement at the time because it was wonderful news for Dundalk and the rest of the north east. I expressed the hope that it would give unemployed people a real opportunity of finding meaningful and sustainable long-term employment.
I was disappointed that the chief executive of IDA Ireland, Mr. Barry O'Leary, more or less seemed to dismiss any concerns arising from the announcement that was made by the PayPal executive. It was reported that he said it did not really matter if 500 jobs were filled by people from overseas because a further 500 jobs would be filled by people from Ireland and the local economy would benefit from the total of 1,000 jobs. However, at a time when 430,000 people in this country are on the live register - and 200,000 hard-core unemployed people have been out of work for a year or more - I think it is a very real problem. I am not expecting the world to change as a result of the Adjournment matter I am raising, but I would like to get some answers. Is there joined-up thinking between the Departments of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and Education and Skills? Are there any plans to address the lack of linguistic skills among the unemployed who are actively seeking jobs?
A number of articulate former employees of the TalkTalk facility in Waterford were interviewed on "Morning Ireland" earlier today. One of them spoke of taking a new career direction, which I hope will be successful, while the second indicated he had written to between 15 and 20 companies seeking work since losing his job in TalkTalk, a call centre where he had worked for eight years. PayPal is essentially a banking operation for those who wish to use the company's system as a method of payment for online purchases. There is not a great difference between the jobs in these companies because in both cases employees deal with members of the public. Are support services in place to encourage the second gentleman who spoke on this morning's programme to learn German, French, Italian or another foreign language? Are support services available to channel those who are actively seeking employment in the direction of employment opportunities offered by companies such as PayPal? It appears from the public pronouncements of the chief executive of the IDA, Mr. Barry O'Leary, that PayPal's problem with the Irish workforce is almost exclusively related to its lack of linguistic skills as opposed to any lack of expertise. Mr. O'Leary also stated the company was actively advertising the vacancies across the world, particularly among the Irish abroad.
Is our network of embassies, for example, in Australia, the United States and some parts of Europe where Irish people have settled, especially Germany and the Low Countries where they will have linguistic skills, being used to actively encourage Irish people to return home to work in companies such as PayPal? I presume Irish people abroad would much prefer to work at home. Does the Government have a specific plan to address this problem, which is not an isolated one but the tip of an iceberg? I am concerned that the good work being done by the IDA and Government initiatives to create more opportunities for the unemployed could be lost in the wind through a lack of joined up thinking in efforts to address the lack of linguistic skills. Sadly, this is culturally embedded in society, primarily because we are an island nation that lies in close proximity to the United Kingdom and English is the international language.
I thank Senator Mooney for raising this matter. Education has an important role to play in the economic recovery of this country. I, therefore, welcome this debate on how the education system can contribute most effectively to this recovery. There is considerable investment by the Department in language provision. At primary level, the Department's policy, as detailed in the Government's National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy 2011, is that pupils will learn two languages, English and Irish. At junior cycle, as well as English and Irish, the other languages available include French, German, Spanish and Italian. There are many opportunities within the transition year for different language experiences. At senior cycle, the languages available include French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese and Arabic, as well as English and Irish.
The State Examinations Commission also provides examinations in a range of other European Union languages. For the 2012 leaving certificate examination there were 1,495 entries for 16 such European languages. Almost 12% of our post-primary students and the general population are of nationalities other than Irish. Many of them have a mother tongue that is not English. These individuals represent a potential local resource for employers to draw upon.
There are no plans in the current budgetary circumstances to extend the range of languages available. However, a number of developments are in progress which should help to ensure greater coherence in language teaching, including foreign language teaching. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is developing an integrated language curriculum for primary schools in the context of the national literacy and numeracy strategy. While the focus of this curriculum will be on English and Irish, the integrated approach should help children to transfer skills acquired in one language to other languages and so establish a sound foundation for the learning of a foreign language in post-primary school.
As part of junior cycle reform, the option of school developed short courses will enable schools to provide additional languages, if they so choose. At senior cycle, revised syllabuses for French, Spanish, German and Italian are expected to be finalised during the 2012-13 school year, following a process of consultation with relevant parties. At third level, students have access to a wide range of foreign language courses which can be taken as core subjects or in combination with a range of other disciplines. In addition, almost 150 new part-time higher education places on foreign language courses have been made available under Springboard 2012.
The supply of foreign language skills was addressed in a report published by Forfás and the expert group on future skills needs last month. The report highlights the important role that private sector employers can play in communicating the message that foreign language proficiency and cultural awareness are essential skillsets for future rewarding employment opportunities. I, therefore, welcome the recent contributions from those directly involved in generating employment opportunities to the debate on how the education system can support job growth and economic recovery.
To respond to the points made by Senator Mooney on the unemployed, the Senator is correct that proficiency in a foreign language seriously enhances an individual's ability to return to employment. For this reason, we are providing third level foreign language courses under Springboard 2012, which will get under way in September. These courses are available free of charge to people who are unemployed who may retain their unemployment support payments while participating in the courses.
Senator Mooney also referred to former workers in the TalkTalk company in Waterford. I will meet some of the workers in question on Monday next when I visit Waterford to assess how well the European Globalisation Fund support mechanisms are assisting them. People who have been made redundant by TalkTalk or other companies may assess what types of training supports they may need and use a training support grant to tailor a suite of support services or training opportunities that responds to their specific needs and assists them in the journey back to work.
I am grateful to the Minister of State for his response. While I had originally intended that the matter would be addressed by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, I understand the reason it is being addressed by a Minister from the Department of Education and Skills as it is related to education. I welcome the various initiatives to which the Minister of State referred. I do not propose to be churlish about them because they are positive and good but they are aimed at the next generation rather than the current generation.
I am pleased the Minister of State also chose to address the specific issue I raised. My argument in this regard is that a proactive approach is needed to enable some of those on the live register to acquire linguistic skills that will allow them to take up opportunities presented by multinational companies. I hope the Department, in liaison with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, will provide opportunities to upskill to unemployed people who have an employment history that could fit in neatly with companies such as PayPal. I expect this important issue will be the subject of interdepartmental discussions. I ask the Minister of State to introduce in any such discussions the idea of recruiting Irish people who may be attracted to return from abroad. Many of these individuals left Ireland because they could not find work and have acquired language skills. I am grateful for the manner in which the Minister of State addressed the issue and appreciate that he understands its urgency.
I thank Senator Mooney and concur with the points he made. Leaders of enterprises who have pointed out particular skills shortages consistently argue that to be an effective member of their teams in centres such as those operated by PayPal, TalkTalk and Hewlett Packard in my home city of Galway, employees must have a high level of proficiency and fluency in a foreign language. They must attain a level close to that of a native speaker because the call centres located here deal with French, German and Italian natives. A considerable period of study and practice in the language in question is required to acquire this level of proficiency. However, the Deputy is correct that a number of people living abroad, including my sister who has been living in Germany for the past five years, have such proficiency and one would hope that many of them will return home to avail of the opportunities we have been discussing.