Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Liam Twomey: I wish to raise an issue concerning those individuals not in a position to complete their apprenticeship training because, for some reason, they are no longer working for the employer to whom they would have expected to return following their spell in college. It is estimated that approximately 7,000 individuals throughout the country are in limbo in terms of not being able to complete their apprenticeship training, mostly electricians, carpenters and others involved in the construction industry which is experiencing a massive downturn. There is a need for the Government to take radical action to assist these 7,000 individuals to complete their training. If they were able to so, it would, at least, give them an opportunity to travel abroad to seek work and make a living for themselves. There are great opportunities in countries such as Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom for young people with a trade to make a life for themselves. They know scope will be limited in this country for the next couple of years, but if they are young and have no commitments, they can avail of the opportunity to travel abroad to work. However, unless they can complete their apprenticeship training, the opportunity to earn a good wage abroad will not be open to them and they will have to go as unskilled workers, whom many countries will not accept.
There is a concern that if such a radical plan were to be devised, employers might put the apprentices they currently employ out of work and thereby swell the numbers involved. However, when drawing up a plan, the Minister could apply and enforce an entry deadline, for example, the end of this month, for apprentices not in a position to complete their training because their employer has gone out of business or laid them off. The Minister must do something radical. I am aware a payment is available from FÁS to apprentices if they can find someone to take them on. There is an opportunity for local authorities, State organisations and even the Army to take on these apprentices to help them to finish their training which perhaps extends to a period of six or nine months in many cases. It appears SIPTU is insisting on the individuals concerned being paid €600 per week and there is a sense it is obstructing the Government in coming up with a scheme to help them. I would like the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, to confirm whether this is the case. However, if the end of this month could be used as a deadline for those apprentices not returning to their employers, we could allay any concerns the union might have that the figure could explode because employers would simply put the apprenctices they currently employ out of work in order to benefit from the scheme.
Whatever solution is reached — it must be reached quickly — we must do something for the 7,000 young men and women who have been left in this position. Many were in training for well over two years and, in some cases, over three years. We need to help them and it would not take much to do so. FÁS has the funding to pay them €260 per week. What we need to do is to mobilise the resources of the State to find positions for them. I do not know whether we could do this by finding them placements for them in the Army, the Naval Service, local authorities or semi-State organisations or even by asking private sector companies to rally round and provide those to whom I refer with assistance. There are approximately 300 individuals in County Wexford who require such assistance and it is possible to provide it for them. I ask that everything possible be done to provide this unique group with assistance. If they were college students and the Government closed down the institution at which they were studying, there would be uproar if they were prevented from completing their courses because this would jeopardise their chances of obtaining employment either here or abroad. I will be interested to discover what the Department intends to do for them.
Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy John Moloney): I apologise that the Tánaiste cannot be present. I will be replying on her behalf. I thank the Senator for raising the matter because it gives me an opportunity to outline the measures introduced to assist redundant apprentices.
As of 30 September, 7,614 apprentices of the total number of 18,380 were redundant. The number of redundant apprentices who, having reached the minimum qualifying standard, can progress in their apprenticeships is 4,320. Some 3,294 redundant apprentices cannot progress until they successfully pass their outstanding assessments. To deal with this problem in an effective way, FÁS has introduced a number of measures to assist redundant apprentices. To date, over 4,000 have been assisted with on and off-the-job training.
The rules relating to off-the-job training have been amended to permit redundant apprentices to progress to their next off-the-job training phases and, to date, 2,439 have completed such training. A further 955 are attending this type of training. The total number of redundant apprentices to benefit in this regard this year will be 3,587. In addition, the redundant apprentice placement scheme was introduced in April. This provides opportunities for redundant apprentices to complete on-the-job training at phases 3, 5 and 7. It also provides a weekly subsidy of €250 for their employers towards employment costs. As of 8 October, 283 redundant apprentices were in employment, with 27 having completed the relevant phase and a further 31 scheduled to commence training. It is expected that up to 477 redundant apprentices will be placed this year.
ESB Networks is providing on-the-job training for 252 eligible redundant apprentices — electrical and motor mechanics — at phases 5 and 7 this year. To date, some 189 have completed their training. A further 63 are in training.
FÁS has developed phase 7 equivalent off-the-job assessments for redundant apprentices for the trades of carpentry and joinery, electrical, plumbing, brick and stone laying and cabinet making where phase 7 assessments cannot be obtained on the job. As of 30 September, 52 redundant apprentices were undertaking assessments, while 91 had completed them. Apprentices eligible to undertake assessments have been notified by FÁS. Redundant apprentices may also avail of the existing specific skills training and evening courses available at FÁS training centres to enhance their employable skills. To date this year, 1,133 programmes have been availed of by redundant apprentices.
Under the European Union’s Leonardo Da Vinci III lifelong learning programme, Leargas, in collaboration with FÁS, has supported 25 redundant apprentices to complete on-the-job training overseas. Some 18 redundant apprentices are engaged in on-the-job training overseas and a further 17 are scheduled to pursue such training in the first half of 2011.
I again thank the Senator for raising this matter. The Tánaiste is very conscious of the plight of many redundant apprentices, particularly those in the construction sector, and is committed to taking all of the steps necessary to constructively address the problem. The variety and relevance of the initiatives I have outlined are testimony to her resolve in this regard. She is open to considering any other proposal the Senator may wish to make in respect of other interventions that might assist in this regard.
Senator Liam Twomey: The Minister of State has mentioned that 4,320 redundant apprentices have reached the minimum qualifying standard and that a further 3,294 cannot progress until they successfully pass their outstanding assessments. Do the 4,000 redundant apprentices who have been assisted with on-the-job and off-the-job training represent a separate cohort?
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