Thursday, 15 October 1992
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Cotter: I want to discuss the matter of apprenticeship training with the Minister for Labour this afternoon. I am aware that there is a new apprenticeship programme on the way which I think is due to be put in place some time next year.
The position today, and has been for some time past, is that school-leavers wishing to become apprentices are experiencing great difficulty finding appropriate places, which has been the case for the past five years. I have intimate knowledge of this because, before being elected to this House in 1989, I  worked in a secondary school. I have maintained constant contact with school-leavers anxious to become apprentices and assisted them in finding places, indeed shared their frustrations when they were unable to do so. In the years prior to 1989, as time progressed, I found my frustration and theirs was becoming more acute.
There had been a great tradition associated with this apprenticeship scheme nationwide, which was very effectively supported by FÁS and from which a stream of qualified people, with all the requisite skills, emerged over the years. Approximately five years ago this stream began to dry up. Today, as a result, we have a very dangerous skills deficit in our economy. I hear this from people and my experience bears this out.
The reasons for that deficit were, first, the downturn in the building industry and, second, difficulties experienced with company profits when everybody was seeking to save a shilling here and there. Of course, whenever an employer took on an apprentice he had to pay the FÁS levy along with paying the apprentice concerned during the period he or she was away, perhaps for a year, off the job, for the 15 or 16 weeks or whatever training period. Companies and individuals could not afford that expenditure and the whole scheme became clogged up.
I know there is a new scheme in the offing, and I would ask the Minister to assess carefully whether companies will respond to this new scheme which no doubt will comprise multi-skills and so on. But I predict that, unless companies are willing to become involved and spend a few shillings of their own in order to make the scheme operable, we shall encounter a woeful problem in the future, with that skills deficit about which I have spoken becoming more acute. Indeed we might even have a continuation of the type of circumstances and experiences about which I am hearing at present. For example, I know parents who have actually paid the FÁS levy for employers to encourage them to take on a school-leaver. I know also that in many cases their sons and daughters taking up such places agreed to work without wages. I should hate that  type of practice to continue in the future because it is most unfair and inequitable. I draw that to the Minister's attention this afternoon so that, when he is putting the final touches to his new apprenticeship scheme, he will take these matters into consideration.
Minister for Labour (Mr. Cowen): Primary responsibility for the recruitment of apprentices rests with employers. But FÁS encourage employers to take on the maximum possible number of apprentices each year to ensure that sufficient skilled people are available in future years. In the past FÁS have followed a practice of sponsoring a number of apprentices to meet any anticipated shortfall due to unexpected increased demand for skilled persons from existing or new employers.
FÁS have responsibility, under the Industrial Training Act, 1967, and the Labour Services Act, 1987, for the regulation of apprenticeship in the sectors of industry which have been designated by FÁS under the 1967 Act.
A new apprenticeship system will be introduced in 1993 following extensive consultations based on a FÁS discussion document published at the end of 1989. The document proposed the introduction of a single standards-based system leading to craft worker status which would allow for internationally recognised certification based on uniform industry agreed standards.
The outline of the new system was agreed in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. Funding arrangements for the new system have also now been agreed by the social partners under the auspices of the Central Review Committee. The necessary legislation is being prepared to arrange for the collection of the employer contribution which will part  finance the cost of apprenticeship in future years.
The board of FÁS have established a National Apprenticeship Advisory Committee — NAAC — to advise the board on the implementation of the new apprenticeship system in accordance with the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. The committee is representative of FÁS board members, the social partners, an educational representative and FÁS staff.
Significant progress has been made on the development of the new system. Agreement has been reached on a curriculum and assessment model. A survey has been completed on the training requirements for 25 trades and subject matter experts have been contracted to develop curricula. Mechanisms for the recruitment of disabled persons and other disadvantaged groups, including women, are being considered. It is planned that two pilot schemes for bricklaying and motor mechanics will commence in November 1992. The two pilot schemes will be conducted using the new curricula material developed by the teams of subject matter experts.
There is a commitment in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress to the recruitment of an additional 1,000 apprentices to the currently designated trades, bringing the number to around 3,500. In addition, FÁS are currently exploring how the new system might be extended to occupations outside the currently designated apprenticeships. The National Apprenticeship Advisory Committee have agreed criteria for the designation of further trades or occupations. Initial research is now being undertaken. This would have the effect of considerably increasing apprenticeship opportunities for young people.
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