Tuesday, 24 February 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
197. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she has satisfied herself that there is sufficient support for persons already at work to take up study opportunities in further education or in higher education; if she will consider developing a partnership model which would combine employer support, study time allowance and Government or tax relief to create a genuine workplace partnership for the promotion of life long learning; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5762/04]
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney): There are ever increasing opportunities being made available for persons to become involved in lifelong learning. The Exchequer is already investing significantly in supporting learning opportunities for those at work and for persons seeking employment. Adult education and training, which was the focus of the task force report on lifelong learning, is provided in a multiplicity of centres funded by the Exchequer, either directly or through intermediary agencies, including universities, institutes of technology, further education colleges, local adult education centres, Youthreach and traveller training centres, FÁS training centres, community training workshops and dedicated sectoral training centres such as agriculture and tourism. Learning opportunities in this area are also available through a wide range of private providers including private third level colleges and commercial training bodies.
It is important to recognise that responsibility in this area is shared involving Government, employers and employees. The need to encourage further training and education of those at work is well recognised. Research shows that the level of investment by companies in the development of skills of their employees is somewhat better than the EU average, but significantly below the best-performing countries such as those in Scandinavia, the Netherlands and the UK. Whereas large companies, and especially foreign-owned companies, invest heavily in their employees, indigenous SMEs are relatively low spenders. For Ireland to be successful in the future we must increase investment in the skills of our workforce and ensure that all workers can get the benefit of such investment. Intensifying global competition is leading to changes in the sectors where Ireland can complete effectively, necessitating a continued focus on changing skill needs and keeping in mind the impact of the changing business environment it is vital that firms take greater responsibility for upskilling their employees to give them a competitive advantage.
The issues raised in the Deputy’s question about employer support, study time allowance and Government or tax relief to promote life long learning were considered in the course of the preparation of the report of the task force on lifelong learning. These issues were more recently addressed in the Irish Labour Market Review 2003, published by FÁS in late 2003. FÁS will carry out a study in this area, in consultation with relevant organisations, in 2004. This study will make a further contribution to our consideration of this issue.
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