Wednesday, 12 June 2013
National Internship Scheme Placements
The issue I am raising on the Adjournment is short and to the point. When schools apply for internships in the education sector, they are getting caught up in time constraints. Deadlines have been published but when schools apply, they are advised that the applications will not be authenticated until 1 August. This does not give them much time to advertise, interview and select candidates, and then arrange Garda vetting before the start of the school year. As we all know, Garda vetting takes six to eight weeks at a minimum. There is no way that the schools will be ready to appoint interns at the start of the school year. I refer in particular to St. Brendan's College in Killarney, which has applied for a laboratory technician. Its hands are tied because it cannot do anything until 1 August and the intern has to start at the beginning of the school year if he or she wants to complete a nine-month internship.
I had hoped the Minister for Social Protection would be here because I had wanted to ask her to bring the date for authentication forward to 1 July at the latest. This would give schools a turnaround time of two months once their applications are accepted.
JobBridge, the national internship scheme, has made significant progress since it commenced on 1 July 2011. As of 6 June 2013, 17,986 individuals had commenced JobBridge internships, 6,045 were in active internships and 2,078 internship opportunities were advertised on the JobBridge website. The independent evaluation of the scheme carried out by Indecon International economic consultants and published by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Social Protection on 1 May showed that 61% of those who completed an internship five or more months ago had progressed into employment. These progression outcomes are exceptionally positive and compare extremely favourably with European averages in this area.
The aim of JobBridge is to assist individuals to bridge the gap between unemployment and the world of work. In the current labour market, JobBridge provides individuals with a unique opportunity to secure work experience in a new field. This is a win-win situation for all parties involved. Interns gain valuable work experience which enhances their skills and competencies while the organisations involved benefit from fresh talent and ideas from people who could be excellent future employees.
The Department of Social Protection is committed to the continual monitoring and review of the JobBridge scheme, including its eligibility criteria, on an ongoing basis. Any individual who wishes to report a suspected abuse of the JobBridge scheme is invited to contact the JobBridge team directly. All such claims are fully investigated. In addition to investigations, the Department carries out random monitoring visits and requires all host organisations to complete monthly compliance protocols. More than 2,100 monitoring visits have been conducted to date and, very encouragingly, 98% of these visits have been satisfactory. Remedial action is taken in cases of non-compliance.
As of 11 June, there were 487 interns in the education sector. The Department takes the view that internships in the education sector are a special case where interns, who under the terms of the scheme are entitled to receive a high quality real workplace experience, are at risk of missing out on that high quality internship experience during academic holidays. I accept there may be some circumstances where an education sector internship experience would not be affected by the academic holidays but, as the House will appreciate, it would not be feasible to review and examine all placements advertised within the education sector on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, a clear and transparent operational decision was made that all such placements must coincide with the academic year. Deadlines have been introduced, before and after which education sector internships will not be approved.
Applications are dealt with by the national contact centre in Edenderry, County Offaly, from 1 August to mid-September in the case of nine-month internships or to mid-December in the case of six-month internships. Given the large number of applications processed by the national contact centre and to ensure internships in the education sector are not disrupted by the long summer holiday period, the Department operates a window system for receipt and processing of applications for internships in the education sector. For the academic year 2013-14, this window commences on 1 August and terminates on 6 December 2013. Unfortunately, it is not possible to vary these dates as to do so could result in internship periods running into the summer holiday period in 2014. This decision was clearly advertised on the home page of the JobBridge website and every effort is made by the Department to provide reasonable notice of this arrangement to potential education sector host organisations.
The Department works with stakeholders to make JobBridge as easy to administer as possible, but our first concern is to ensure interns are not idle, abused or deprived of the high quality real workplace internship experience they deserve. It is in the interest of the taxpayer as well as the jobseeker that we maximise future employment opportunities.
I could have done without the first part of the Minister of State's reply because it merely outlined statistics we already know. All I wanted was a response to my request. The reply given is contradictory to what I asked. The Minister of State stated: "it is not possible to vary these dates as to do so could result in internship periods running into the summer holiday period in 2014". What I have suggested would have the opposite effect because interns would be able to start earlier, at the beginning of the school year, instead of waiting until mid to late September. If the date for authentication were brought forward to 1 July, schools would be ready to roll when the school year starts because they would have completed the Garda vetting process. As Garda vetting takes six to eight weeks, there is no way schools can be ready to take on interns at the start of the school year if they commence the process on 1 August. I am not happy with the Minister of State's reply and I believe the matter should be raised with the Minister for Social Protection. The answer is not appropriate to my question.
I appreciate the points that the Senator is making. Unfortunately, the Minister for Social Protection is unable to attend the House but I assure the Senator that her concerns about the reply that I delivered will be conveyed to the Minister at the earliest opportunity. Perhaps the Senator will have a further opportunity to do the same thing.
As the statistics indicate, almost 18,000 people have participated on the scheme. That is a very significant number. There may be some tweaking to do but I cannot give a commitment that it will be done. I am obliged to leave that matter to the Minister's discretion. I have no direct responsibility in this matter because I serve in a different Department. Nevertheless, I am of the view that the Minister, who is a reasonable person, would certainly entertain any proposals that would lead to the operation of the scheme being improved.