Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Apprenticeship Statistics.

Tomás MacGiolla

Question:

17 Tomás Mac Giolla asked the Minister for Labour the total number of apprentices in the country at the latest date for which figures are available; and of these, the numbers who are female; if he has any plans to increase the number of female apprentices; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The total number of registered apprentices is currently 12,167.

Primary responsibility for the recruitment of apprentices rests with employers, with FÁS and the educational system providing the off the job element of training. FÁS are implementing, in relation to female apprentices, a positive action programme in favour of women one of whose objectives is to increase significantly the rate of female participation in apprenticeship over the three year period 1990-93. As a result, there has been an increase in the number of female apprentices from 117 at the end of 1989 to a current level of 145, an increase of 29 per cent. The action programme has been developed in such a manner as to encourage and help more and more women to participate in sectors that have been traditionally dominated by men in the growth sectors of the economy. However, such initiatives cannot be successful without the active support and commitment of employers and I would urge employers to sponsor female apprentices. In order to provide an additional incentive to companies and potential female apprentices, FÁS have intitiated bursaries in 1990 for new female apprentices to assist with apprenticeship support costs during the off the job training period. The results of these initiatives will be evaluated and it is my intention to request FÁS to expand these initiatives where possible.

The general question of equality and equity in relation to apprentice recruitment has been addressed in the review of apprenticeship undertaken by FÁS at my request. These proposals are currently being examined in the context of the negotiation of a programme for economic and social development.

Will the Minister agree that the number of female apprentices, standing at just about 1 per cent of the total number of apprentices, is still abysmally inadequate, that it does not suggest an adequate response to the programme of action he refered to? Does he accept the recent report to FÁS that a quota of 10 per cent of apprenticeships as a minimum should be women? Has he taken any steps to give effect to that report or to advance it in any way, or to introduce a quota system?

A year or 15 months ago I issued the figures when I became aware of how few there were. We set up a group to improve that. At that stage we set 3.5 per cent quota to be reached by 1992, which would be 400. We believe we can achieve that figure. I do not think there is any point in trying to go for higher figures. We would not achieve them. We started the bursaries to try to convince employers that they would get women who would prove extremely good in the apprenticeship system. Also there are various moves in the education system to get away from sex stereotype programmes that mean very few women seek apprenticeships. FÁS are actively trying to increase the figures.

The figures are one thing, but to get the necessary support from employers is another. It is extremely difficult, even when positive discrimination is directed at maintaining the places. I agree with Deputy Gilmore but the only way to achieve what he asks is by setting a quota and implementing it. That is the policy we are now following.

Will the Minister not agree that one of the reasons we have such a paucity of women in apprenticeships is that most of the apprenticeships tend to be traditional, and that there has been very little broadening of the base from which the apprentices are drawn? There is a need to have an indepth analysis of the areas where we should have apprentices and that is the high-tech area, the computer area. That should be part and parcel of any review and should be tackled as a matter of urgency with a view to redressing the imbalance.

I agree with the Deputy. There is a far broader scope of apprenticeships in other countries. The situation here is primarily the result of our educational system and we hope to provide for far more apprenticeships than are there at present.

The key issue in getting the numbers up is funding. Every apprentice costs FÁS £8,000 per annum which is fairly high. FÁS have an input in two areas, in off the job training and where FÁS are linked with the employer in partial training. If we could make progress in those two areas that would be an achievement. The other aspect is to try to get more resources from employers but that is a matter which is under discussion.

Since the role of FÁS is central in this area let me ask the Minister if in the recent changeabout in the top positions in FÁS any consideration was given to what role the occupiers of those positions might play in promoting greater access to apprenticeships for women, what consideration we give to the track record of the appointees in the area of equality for women and if the Minister has had any discussion with the new chairman and the new chief executive of FÁS on any particular approach or any policy approach they might take to improve what everybody accepts is an absymally low figure of female apprentices?

I have not had discussions with the chairman but with the chief executive who is the former chairman. He is the one who has implemented the policy of 3½ per cent which is 400. Another point I would make is that where FÁS have held a quota of positions for women, women came out in the top three in most of these courses. It is discrimination and traditional attitudes of blocking women from the courses rather than their ability to succeed in the courses that has been very unhelpful but it will take some time to change those views.

Could the Minister indicate if the proposals being made by FÁS will be in place for 1991? Is the Minister also aware that many young people in rural areas find it almost impossible to get a sponsor? It is now easier to get into third level education than it is to get an apprenticeship.

Deputy Mitchell and I would agree that it is not only in rural areas that this happens. It will require major change when the review body is finished. I am not arguing with that. Implementing that successfully requires resources and that is what we are trying to negotiate now.

When does the Minister think that will happen?

When we get a reply. I would like to put on the record of the House that I think the solution is resources and contributions from employers. The State has, for generations, put a lot of money into this.

Now that negotiations are going on regarding theProgramme for National Recovery will the Minister agree that this is the opportune moment to discuss the matter with the trade union movement and enshrine in any agreement provision for the intake of more women into the various trades? Without the active participation of the trade union movement it is unlikely that there will be any significant change.

We have done that. I can give the example of the Customs House Docks Site where FÁS co-operated with the employers and the trade union movement. The trade union movement were extremely unhelpful. Not alone did they not welcome the initiative for bringing full equality into the system, they changed the educational status for women entering. The other side of the problem is the cost of getting the numbers up. It is the employers we are dealing with at the moment.

I have to say that progress at questions today has been rather sluggish. Let us try to expedite matters.