Written answers

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Apprenticeship Programmes

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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321. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the roll-out of the Action Plan for Apprenticeships 2021-2025 which is a specific focus on apprenticeships that would help address skill shortages in the housing sector. [29525/21]

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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The Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-2025 was launched on 19th April and sets out a five year plan which sets out new ways of structuring, funding, and promoting apprenticeships to make apprenticeship accessible to employers and learners. The actions set out in the plan seek to deliver on a target of 10,000 apprenticeship registrations per annum by 2025 across all sectors of the economy including construction. Measures to support employer engagement in apprenticeship, particularly within the SME sector, will be integral to the delivery of that target.

As a demand driven programme, the number of apprentice placements is determined by employers within the construction sector. In recent years, annual intake in construction related apprenticeships has steadily been increasing, from a low of 650 in 2010 to 3,499 in 2019. The impact of Covid-19 and the closure of the construction sector in March 2020 impacted heavily on apprentice registrations in the first half of 2020. Registrations recovered in the second half of the year with the support of the Apprenticeship Incentivisation Scheme, which provides an employer grant of €3,000 payable over two years to support employers who take on and retain apprentices, reaching a total of 3,104 registrations on construction related apprenticeships by year end.

Work has begun on the implementation of the Action Plan.  Proposed amendments to the Industrial Training Act, 1967 seek to expand the definition of an "activity of industry" to widen the potential scope of new apprenticeship programmes (Action 5.2) has been included under the General Scheme of Higher Education Authority Bill which was published on the 6th May 2021. The Bill also provides for the recognition of a shared office between SOLAS and HEA to facilitate collaboration on the national-level development, monitoring, review and management of the apprenticeship system (Action 12.6)

Progress towards baseline actions will be reviewed on an annual basis and a report delivered to Government, outlining progress and learnings and setting out detailed areas for action in the next phase of delivery.

Education and training relevant to skills needs in the construction sector is delivered through ongoing apprenticeship and non-apprenticeship further and higher education and training as well as through specific activation programmes such as Springboard, the Human Capital Initiative and Skillnet Ireland.

Among the 60 apprenticeships currently available at levels 5-10 on the National Framework of qualifications, the 25 traditional craft apprenticeships at level 6 of the National Framework of Qualifications have been supplemented by new apprenticeships in geo-drilling (Level 6), with programmes in scaffolding (level 5), roofing and cladding (level 5) and advanced quantity surveying (Level 9) due to launch in 2021.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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322. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the steps he is taking to address exploitative employment practices of apprentice workers by employers. [29526/21]

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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Ireland has a comprehensive body of employment legislation, in respect of which the Workplace Relations Commission is mandated to secure compliance. Employment rights legislation protects all employees, including apprentices who are legally employed on a contract of service basis.

Where an individual believes they are being deprived of employment rights applicable to employees they may refer a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) where the matter can be dealt with by way of mediation or adjudication leading to a decision that is enforceable through the District Court. WRC inspectors can also be asked to investigate certain breaches. Complaints can be made on a single online complaint form available at the WRC’s website www.workplacerelations.ie.

The Workplace Relations Customer Service Section can be contacted at Lo-call: 1890 80 80 90 or via its website www.workplacerelations.ie. 

Generally, apprentices who are employed under a contract of service or apprenticeship are entitled to the same employment rights protection as all other employees employed under a contract of service. However, there are a few exceptions in relation to apprentices:

- In the case of statutory apprentices, the Unfair Dismissals Acts do not apply if the dismissal takes place within six months after the commencement of the apprenticeship or within one month after the completion of the apprenticeship. (Section 4 of the UD Act)

- An employer of an apprentice is not obliged to pay a redundancy lump sum under the Redundancy Payments Acts if the dismissal takes place within one month after the completion of the apprenticeship. (Section 7(4) of the RP Act)

- Apprenticeships are excluded from the remit of the National Minimum Wage.

Notwithstanding this it is important to note that it is a central principle of the apprenticeship system in Ireland that both apprentices and their employers are assured of a high-quality apprenticeship experience leading to recognised awards. There are a number of processes in place to support this, underpinned by statute under the Industrial Training Act 1967 and the Quality Assurance and Qualifications Act 2012, including:

- ‘The Apprenticeship Code of Practice’, published by SOLAS, covers the key obligations of employers and apprentices participating in apprenticeship. Employers are required to sign up to this code prior to engaging apprentices. Companies seeking to recruit apprentices are also required to undertake the SOLAS ‘Suitability to Train Assessment’ prior to being admitted onto the register of approved employers.

- The network of Authorised Officers (AOs) of the Education and Training Boards (ETBs), working on behalf of SOLAS, continually engage with employers and individual apprentices throughout their apprenticeship programme, ensuring adherence to the Code of Practice as well as providing ongoing supports.

- All SOLAS approved training organisations and tutors are subject to independent scheduled process monitoring and/or unscheduled assessment event monitoring to ensure adherence with both Quality Qualifications Ireland (QQI) accreditation and SOLAS requirements.

- A comprehensive quality assurance process for apprenticeships covers the quality of delivery on and off the job training and is overseen by QQI through co-ordinating providers.

- The employer is the provider of ‘on-the-job’ elements of the Apprenticeship Programme and is responsible for apprentice direction, observation, supervision, and, if applicable, assessment. Employers are required to:

- Ensure that the apprentice is released to attend the mandatory apprenticeship induction presentation.

- Release the apprentice for the off-the-job training elements of the Apprenticeship Programme on the dates and to the location as notified.

- Regularly communicate with the apprentice and his/her workplace mentor and/or assessor/verifier to monitor how the apprentice is progressing.

- Be proactive in reviewing the apprentice's progress and provide support, advice and encouragement to the apprentice throughout the apprenticeship.

- The trade union movement are an integral part of the delivery of the apprenticeship system in Ireland. This is achieved through membership of the National Apprenticeship Advisory Committee (NAAC), a subcommittee of SOLAS, as well as the Apprenticeship Council which has overseen the expansion of apprenticeship over the last five year period to reach a total of 60 programmes across all sectors of the economy. 


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