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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 Dec 1993

Vol. 436 No. 8

Industrial Training (Apprenticeship Levy) Bill, 1993: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I commended the Minister for introducing the Bill and I commend her also for taking this action in relation to apprenticeships here.

As we speak, a total of 300,000 people are out of work. A very high percentage of the unemployed are young people under the age of 25. The young people who are hardest hit are those who leave school without any qualifications, who do not get proper training and who stand to be condemned to a life of long term unemployment. It is of crucial importance that urgent action be taken with regard to these people. To enable the Minister to address this problem it is fundamentally important we put in place a proper system of apprenticeship.

Parents who are concerned about the future of their children say that the best that is on offer at present are short courses with no long term prospects. When they seek access for young people to apprenticeship schemes they find it almost impossible because the current entry system is most unsatisfactory.

I urge the Minister of State to put in place a procedure whereby persons seeking apprenticeships are officially registered so that employers seeking to take on apprentices would draw them from persons on that register. That would be the most sensible way of introducing an equitable entry to apprenticeship schemes. In addition, I urge the Minister, as a matter of urgency, to talk to the construction industry. Time was when the construction industry and its members took on a number of apprentices but, with the changes in the industry in recent times, fewer places are available. The system needs to be examined. The only way the position can be remedied is by the Minister negotiating with the industry and extracting a commitment to taking on a number of apprentices on a systematic basis. A great deal needs to be done but we must begin somewhere. The construction industry used to create opportunities in a very basic skill.

Apart from our worry about the high rate of youth unemployment there is the additional worry that this country could face a shortage of skills. Would it not be an irony to have so many young people unemployed if, at the same time, when jobs came on stream, we did not have people sufficiently well qualified in the requisite skills to take on those jobs? We should look to Germany if we want a model for a good combination of education and training that fits people for life, giving them not alone the skills they need but the motivation to undertake the work. They also acquire management skills, so that a number of them will not merely find employment but go on to become employers themselves. That must be the ideal objective.

I know the Minister is very concerned to get this done well but there are a number of areas in which we need to bring ourselves into line with European standards. We are spending billions on our roads and bridges, on the physical infrastructure of the country. It is equally important to make an investment in our young people, to bring the level and standard of their training and education up to those in our competitor countries within the European Union.

I support this Bill and commend what the Minister of State is doing. However, it constitutes only one small but key element in what needs to be done to tackle the overall matter of apprenticeships because the present position is chaotic and serves nobody well. The Minister of State has a large task in hand, but the sooner it is tackled the better.

This Bill is a modest measure designed to give expression to some of the case that has been made over very many years now, not least by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, for reforms of the apprenticeship system as we have known it.

The Minister, in her introductory remarks on Second Stage, set out clearly that although the traditional time-served apprenticeship system, in the context of its time, did a reasonable job, it left a great deal to be desired. I would not quibble with many of the things the Minister of State said in terms of identifying the inadequacies of the old apprenticeship system. It was indeed fragmented and lacked coherence so that, at the end of the period of apprenticeship, there was still no certification of skills, no certificate acceptable or exchangeable internationally.

For example, a discussion document produced by the Minister for Finance, when he was Minister for Labour in 1990, pointed to a number of shortcomings in the current apprenticeship scheme. Among them were the absence of compulsory standards — there was no compulsory competancy-based standard which an apprentice must attain to operate as a craft worker; inadequate provision for evolving technology — the current system was regarded as having been too rigid to cope with the requirements of updating of skills in the light of new technology and inequity of entry because the entry mechanism was not always based on the best candidate getting the apprenticeship. These are serious, limiting criticisms of the old apprenticeship system. For example, there was no variation of tasks. This could mean that an apprentice could not move to a second employer. On the matter of inequity at entry, too much of the old system was based on the favoured son. In other words, if somebody had the ear of the boss, then the son, and it was usually the son——

——of the boss's friend always had an unfair advantage in terms of gaining access to an apprenticeship scheme. Of course, it is unacceptable that qualified young people should be ignored for access to a particular craft simply because of selection, if made purely on the basis of the relationship to the owner of the company, or on whether one's father happened to be a friend of the owner.

There is a further disturbing aspect to this question of inequity at entry which relates to the very poor level of participation by women in apprenticeship. According to FÁS's own figures, in 1992 there were 13,632 registered apprentices, of whom just 196 were female, representing 1.4 per cent of the total. Even allowing for traditional attitudes, this is an abysmal figure and there has been virtually no increase in the overall percentage of female apprenticeships in recent years. I cannot find any reference to this in the Minister's introductory remarks, although I am quite certain she did refer to it in her introduction.

There is an urgent need for more effective measures to increase the number of women participating in the new apprenticeship scheme. I acknowledge that part of the problem has been that traditional occupations designated for apprentices, such as electricians, bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, printers and mechanics have been male-dominated while the occupations with traditionally high levels of female participation, such as hairdressing, textiles, clothing, distribution and so on, were not designated under the 1959 Apprenticeship Act. Clearly, the attitudes of some employers has also been an obstacle. Indeed, I confess that some of the more traditionalist trade union attitudes have also demonstrated a reluctance to encourage the opening up of these areas to women.

This may be part of the reason there has been so little progress in regard to closing the gap between male and female earnings, as apprenticeship is the recognised path to many of the more highly paid skills in trades. The most recent figures to which I have access, published by the Central Statistics Office, show the average male industrial weekly earnings at £283.87 while those for women were just £176.41, a gap of £107.46. For example, in September 1985 the respective figures were £205.07 for men and £114.58 for women. Therefore, in seven years the gap between male and female earnings had increased by £17 per week. In September 1985 female earnings represented approximately 55 per cent of the male equivalent whereas, by September 1992, that ratio had crept up to 62 per cent only.

Of course, this is a comment on the effectiveness of equal pay legislation. It is clear that traditional attitudes to apprenticeship provide one part of the explanation. In addition to the need to strengthen the terms of both the 1974 Act and the 1977 Employment Equality Act, there is a need to address the structural inequalities resulting in so many women going into low-earning industries. Clearly apprenticeships have an important role to play in this regard. I would like to hear the Minister state clearly what measures she proposes to take that will oblige employers and, indeed, anyone else who seeks to obstruct the process, to permit an increase in the level of participation of women in apprenticeships. There may have been a paragraph in the Minister's speech which I missed but I would like to tempt her again to tell the House precisely what measures she proposes to take. We have seen that exhortation alone is not sufficient. If my memory serves me correctly, the Minister said that £30 million from the Exchequer is going towards the apprenticeship system. I am not sure how that is calculated but I do not query the figure.

It is between Europe and here.

It is a huge sum of taxpayers' money and in return we are entitled to assert some principles in the area. As I understand it, Forfás operates a system of bursaries for employers who take on women apprentices in addition to male apprentices, which I think is of the order of £2,400. I understand that sum is for the duration of the apprenticeship scheme rather than per annum. I do not know whether it is envisaged that the fund we are creating as a result of this legislation will mean that it will be paid from this fund in future or whether additional bursaries will be dispensed from the new fund. I would like to hear the Minister's views on that.

I approach this Bill from the point of view of the necessity to upgrade the skills base of Irish workers. If we are to have an enhanced economic performance it is important that we have the most skilled and mobile workforce possible, capable of competing with any international standards. There is no difficulty for Irish workers matching the skills levels of other European countries provided we get this right. Obviously, in the context of the internal market it is more important than ever that that is the case.

I heard Deputy Quill refer to the German system. The German system is quite interesting and fundamentally different from the system we operate. I would refer the Minister to a document from the Department of Education and Science in Britain, produced by Her Majesty's inspectorate entitled "Aspects of vocational education and training in the Federal Republic of Germany". That probably dates it a little but not a great deal. It is a very interesting assessment made on behalf of the British Government of the system in Germany. For example, I should like to refer to a few points in this report:

Ninety per cent of all school leavers in the FRG receive vocational education and training. By law, all young people in training or employment must continue in part-time education up to the age of 18. Seventy-two per cent of the school leavers at 16 enter training through the Dual System.

They are stark statistics and probably go some considerable way towards explaining the success of Germany as an economic power. The report continues:

Under the terms of the Vocational Training Act, employers may take on apprentices in any of 378 recognised training occupations only on the basis of a contract whereby they guarantee to provide appropriate training.

Our crafts, designed under the Apprenticeship Act, have been rather limited and old fashioned and operate very much in the male dominated world. I presume without having gone into it in any great detail, that the 378 recognised training occupations implies that there is almost no activity that is not considered eligible in the German economy. I was interested to hear from the director of FÁS in my own region — at a different function last night — that he was rather chuffed at having secured a system of placement which — as the area is dominated by women — I presume is for women. This system will be with the retail trade and in effect is an apprenticeship. The places had been provided by the companies in the Tallaght area and this appears to be worthwhile. I quote again from the report as follows:

Trainees are assessed for their vocational certificate solely through the intermediate and final examinations...

Progression routes through the educational system of the FRG to higher education appear to be well understood by students...In the FRG, vocational schools are often mono-technics and concentrate on provision for a particular category of student...There is greater parity of esteem in the FRG than in the United Kingdom between academic and vocational courses and their respective qualifications. Sixteen per cent of all trainees in the Dual System hold the Abitur (leaving certificate from the Gymnasium and the university entrance qualification) and commence their apprenticeship at the age of 18 or 19; some then progress to higher education after gaining their vocational certificate.

It is a markedly different approach to the question of apprenticeship and is one well worth examining. The Minister refers to it in her script where she refers to the changes identified in the White Paper. She said employers were not taking sufficient responsibility for training apprentices compared with the German system where employers must provide adequate on-the-job training and release apprentices for off-the-job training. Irish employers, were, for the most part, not committed to apprenticeship training. That is the key point and it has much to do with our economic performance because in this country too many employers regard training as a cost rather than an investment. That is the point being made by the Minister. Employers regard training as a cost, unlike the Germans who regard it as an investment. For example, there is no difficulty in Germany when somebody has completed their apprenticeship about their being poached by another company because the system provides the basic level of training. Here that has been a big problem because many companies have gone out of their way to avoid their contribution but at the same time have been confident that they can poach apprentices as soon as they have served their time. In the experience of the trade unions, this has been a factor here.

As the Minister is aware, up to now off-the-job training has not been compulsory. As a result a great many employers simply would not pay for off-the-job training. That has been one of the key defects. I do not know whether the Minister knows how effectively the Bill will cope with that phenomenon. Take, for example the phenomenal changes that have taken place in the construction industry in recent years and the proliferation of sub-contractors. You cannot contract a building company now to do any kind of work without the contractor, in turn, sub-contracting it 100 times. There is a proliferation of what used to be called C2 certificates, now C45 certificates.

Everybody is a self-employed contractor and I do not know how we will bring them within the ambit of this levy. I do not envisage these hard-nosed self-employed contractors volunteering to pay their share of the levy. Of course, the proliferation of these one man companies militates against the necessary range of skills and variation of tasks being acquired by apprentices.

The Bill really is defined in terms of its relationship to the social welfare legistracto lation and I do not know if there is any other yardstick that we might apply to try to get these contractors into the net or if other labour legislation might prove more effective in that area. I note that the Minister may vary the amount of the levy by order. As far as I can see there is no provision in the Bill that requires the Minister to consult on that, but I think it is desirable that she should consult in this matter. I think it is entirely appropriate that the Minister has this power as it may very well be necessary to vary the levy for a variety of reasons. I am not sure I understand how the figure of 0.25 per cent was arrived at. I know the Irish Congress of Trade Unions started out from the position of seeking a 1 per cent levy.

Another 1 per cent levy.

An irony that it should be seeking a 1 per cent levy, having regard to the other 1 per cent levy. That was the position. I do not know whether it has been calculated that the 0.25 per cent levy will meet the cost of training, having regard to the number of apprentices in the system and the provision of approximately 40 weeks off-the-job training over the course of the apprenticeship. Presumably, the Minister may have to use the facility to vary the levy, but I think this should be done only after consultation. Before we increase the levy we should look at the question of those who seek to evade their responsibilities.

This Bill, which is a reforming measure, is broadly welcome. I hope it will put an end to the system that obtained up to now of employers being reluctant to train apprentices in off-the-job and on-the-job skills because in many cases they lost them after they had served their time. There is a need to focus on the construction industry because it is very slow to change. The latest figures that FÁS has suggest that 1,000 apprentices in the construction industry have been laid off. That was never the case before we introduced the system of scaled fees. In the old days, when apprentices were taken on for £10 a week, they were regarded as a source of cheap labour for the construction industry and were never laid off.

They were one of the last to be laid off.

It was almost sacrosanct in the past that the last person to be laid off was the apprentice, although in many cases he may have been making the tea or painting the gasometer for the four years of his training, which did not enhance his repertoire of skills, but he was not let go. Regrettably, they are now frequently let go and the construction industry is one of the worst offenders in this regard. As far as I know, training is well up to standard in the print industry. The same applies to engineering and the change in pace of technology has required the industry to stay in touch. The fixed location has been a factor also. In the construction industry by definition workers have to follow their work and therefore it is more difficult to monitor and supervise the industry than it is in the case of the engineering sector. The whole situation has drastically changed in the motor industry in terms of car maintenance and other requirements in that area.

Generally speaking, I am concerned that the Minister would examine with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions her ability to police and impose the spirit of the Bill in what have traditionally been known as the wet trades. In these trades the phenomenon of the one-man operation is proliferation and I am concerned where it will lead in terms of skilled manpower in the years ahead. That is particularly important.

I will again address the German dual system of vocational schooling. In many ways it can be said that this system respects everybody and all of the talents. The system has not just a strong vocational content but is closely linked to industry. An important point, as I said already, is that industry accepts that involvement voluntarily. I am not seeking to make an argument in favour of turning schools into "skill factories" for industry, but I make a plea to those who run our education system and to industry to take all students, all talents and all abilities seriously.

I believe a policy on human capital must be at the centre of indigenous industrial development, or we will not have that development. It is as simple as that. Our vocational schools have become by and large "me too" secondary schools chasing the leaving certificate, which is run for the benefit of the universities. I think our education system has done very well within its own terms, but if one considers the traditional vocational system of the sixties it was a second rate system for the working class. The introduction of free secondary education gave the working class an opportunity to pass judgment on the system, which they did, by and large by rejecting it.

Now we have secondary schools, comprehensive schools, community schools and vocational schools, all different in name but essentially doing the same thing — academic education. What else do we have? FÁS community based workshops are in effect involved in retraining and remedial education through various schemes. There may well be an argument to consider spinning off some of the excellent community workshop effort into a new vocational education system. Essentially, I believe that is what FÁS is doing. We should give FÁS credit for what it is doing, as well as the resources to do it well, and put its work off limits to the entire education system.

I know that a great many in the education system would object to that notion, but when one examines the situation one sees that we have a work environment that is characterised by the following features. Well over half of Irish employees receive no training of any sort in any year. Only one-fifth receive formal off-the-job training and only one-fifth receive on-the-job training. Expenditure on training per employee is £97 per annum compared with £328 in Britain, which, as we have just seen, is no great shakes, and certainly no great shakes when compared with Germany; 65 per cent of employees in very small firms receive no formal training and 10 per cent of employees of large firms get training. Only 30 per cent of managers get training compared with 50 per cent in other countries.

The Bill is welcome. It is a long overdue improvement on the traditional apprenticeship system we have had. It has taken a long time to get this far. We can deal with matters in detail on Committee Stage. The literature produced by FÁS looks very well and it suggests that people in FÁS are taking the question of apprenticeship seriously. Apprentices are likely to have their prospects enhanced as a result of this Bill.

I propose to share my time with Deputies Nolan and Seán Ryan.

That is satisfactory.

I welcome this Bill. I have been involved in teaching apprentices for many years and I am very much aware that it is important to introduce some reforming measure. As Deputy Rabbitte said, employers did not always take the training role seriously and, not-withstanding the old adage that the apprentice was the last one to be let go, at this stage he was the last one to be taken on.

In introducing a new scheme we should note the success of the old apprentice training scheme and acknowledge the excellence of the standards achieved by teachers, instructors and employers who gave apprentices on the job training. We can be proud that many of our apprentices have won gold, silver and bronze medals at the skills olympics. I take pride that the Regional College, Cork, has produced many medal winners over the years, including one gold medal winner this year. We should not throw everything away as there were good aspects to the old apprenticeship scheme.

The education element in any apprentice scheme is very important as are communications and social skills. In the past a very narrow view of apprenticeship training was propounded. Apprenticeship was seen in a narrow technical light and it was pitiful to see young men and women with excellent skills but without communications skills when it came to the theoretical side of examinations. The Minister should make certain that the education element is maintained in any new scheme introduced. I am delighted that the Minister decided to introduce a new apprenticeship scheme on a phased basis.

I took the Deputy's advice on that.

The Minister graciously received a number of deputations and the end product has satisfied teachers in the regional colleges. However, there are still a number of worrying trends. Deputy Rabbitte pinpointed building sites. I understand that the 15 trades introduced on a phased basis in the pilot scheme this September represent about 20 per cent of the apprentice intake. I also understand that there could be up to a 50 per cent drop in the number of people participating in these trades so far this year. I understand that the printing, vehicle light body and agricultural machinery courses have their usual intake; but in painting, where last year there were over 60 apprentices, we may take on perhaps only four this year.

There has been a dramatic change in the building trade; gone are the days when the main contractor had 150 to 200 workers on site. If he now has four or five on site, that is the limit of it. There are subcontractors employing people on a self-employed basis. That removes the initiative to take on apprentices. When reviewing this we would want to have regard to that important sector of the economy and ensure that numbers are increased in that area.

The Minister in her speech indicated that a training and assessment programme can allow apprentices to progress to technician level and obtain other qualifications. I envisage a number of difficulties here in that somebody who takes up an apprenticeship tends to stick to the chosen trade and only a low percentage have opted for further education. Practical difficulties will also arise, given that we have never had proper synchronisation between the technician course and the subject matter pursued by the apprentice.

As a former Minister for Education the Minister will know that certification of technician courses comes within the ambit of the National Council of Educational Awards, CERT has the NCBB and the universities have their own certification. We are now introducing a fourth or fifth element of certification. At the end of the day we want certification achieved in Ireland to be recognised internationally. Will the Minister consider, given that apprentices can progress to technician courses, whether it would be worthwhile establishing an umbrella body with overall responsibility for certification in the three or four areas mentioned, which certification would be internationally recognised, while at the same time we could have a sub-element giving certification for the individual achievements?

The Minister mentioned that it was important to cover an adequate number of skills but that it was also important to update skills on an ongoing basis. In the present system where is there provision for updating skills on an ongoing basis? By and large, management in Ireland is very slow to invest in training programmes. We probably have one of the lowest percentage rates for employer involvement in training in Europe. We must encourage employers to invest in additional training. It is estimated that the Minister will take in £4 million every year through the levy, which is very well structured and even handed and does not place a great burden on industry.

It seems likely that over a period we will have a surplus, having regard to the levy and the amount of money to be paid out. The Minister in her speech mentioned that if there was a surplus it would be carried forward from year to year. Perhaps it might be worth considering setting up a fund for ongoing training for further incentives to ensure that the flexibility and adaptability of our craftspersons are kept up to date and that they are on a par with those in other member states and internationally. When the UK economy was booming our apprentices were far more adaptable and better trained than those in the UK. Will the Minister ensure the skills of our apprentices and craftspeople are kept up-to-date by setting up such a fund?

I am concerned also about the inequitable access to apprenticeships and I welcome the Minister's commitment to review that matter. Perhaps she would make it mandatory for employers taking on an apprentice to have a FÁS official as part and parcel of the interviewing process. It is demoralising for young people to feel they have not got a fair crack of the whip; where possible, the best applicant should get the job.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and I congratulate the Minister for introducing it. I want to highlight two matters, the first relates to the cost to industry of employing apprentices. A number of industries in my constituency, such as the Irish Sugar Company and a German company called Lapple who have produced international gold winners during the past number of years, are to the fore in training apprentices. One of the problems those companies continually highlight is the cost of training them. The Minister stated that a contribution will be made to industry for off-site training for apprentices. In an increasingly competitive commercial environment all industries must examine their costs and this contribution will go some way towards covering some of them.

I have received many complaints about the manner in which some companies recruit apprentices. It is accepted, rightly or wrongly, that such companies recruit only the sons or daughters of their managers or employees. I do not know how the problem can be tackled but it might be of assistance to have officials from an outside agency involved in interviewing potential apprentices. There appears to be a great deal of inequality in the manner in which some industries select their apprentices. Another matter of concern is that when such well qualified young persons are unable to secure apprenticeships they have great difficulty in finding industrial sponsors elsewhere. That problem must be addressed. Also, in the past there have been far too few female apprentices in the trades and I hope that will be rectified under this legislation. I acknowledge the Minister made that point in her speech.

Overall, I welcome the fact that the new system will be based on standards achieved rather than on the traditional time served. That is an important point and it is important also that the standards achieved under the old apprenticeship system are maintained because, internationally, we are noted for our excellent standards and I would not like them to slip. I welcome that in future craftspeople will have to hold a national craft certificate and that special provision will be made to encourage the recruitment of female apprentices. The new system will be based on uniform pre-specified and industry-agreed standards. Because of the large number of multinational companies locating here our standards will be continually reviewed by their parent companies and, therefore, it is important to maintain high standards. I wish the Minister success with the legislation because it will improve the old system and tidy up some loose ends.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation which will strengthen and boost our training and apprenticeship programmes. I compliment the Minister for the manner in which she presented the legislation and the fact that she met various groups and took on board many of their suggestions in the run-up to the introduction of the legislation.

I started my career as an apprentice in CIE and I want to outline the achievements of the apprenticeship schemes down through the years. From the 1960s onwards our apprentices have been of the highest quality and served our country excellently in various international competitions. Obviously, with the change in industry over the years it was necessary to improve the apprenticeship scheme and this legislation is the next step. There has always been an element of training and education in apprenticeship schemes and I would not like to see the education element put on the back burner. In the past many apprentices who did not have an opportunity to take up third level education used apprenticeship schemes to gain further education and many of them proceeded to third level education. The apprenticeship scheme is tried and tested and has a long history. It is a system of education and should provide apprentices with as broad a range of skills and talents as possible. Apprentices should be given an opportunity to learn a wide range of skills covering the entire discipline within a trade rather than the skills of one employment.

The introduction of the levy will assist apprentices in employment. However, what will happen a young person who has attained an apprenticeship and the firm goes out of operation with the loss of his or her job? Who will assist that person? It should be possible for such people to continue training with FÁS and for the system to endeavour to find a possible employer for them.

Every person should have an opportunity to avail of apprenticeship training without having to depend on someone they know, like their father or mother. In addition, we should encourage more women to avail of this training. I hope it will be possible for the Minister of State to provide more places so that people will be able to avail of job opportunities. In conclusion, I compliment the Minister of State on what she has achieved to date.

With the permission of the House I wish to share my time with my colleague, Deputy McGrath.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

We are not noted for the speed with which we adapt to change and the process which led to the publication of this Bill is a prime example. This Bill was in the pipeline for a considerable length of time——

It was a tortuous process.

One would have thought that the process of change and reform identified in the 1986 White Paper on Manpower would have led long before now to the measures introduced by the Minister of State. Unfortunately, it took some time to complete the analysis. In 1987, FÁS was asked to modernise the training system and to make recommendations. In 1989, a discussion document was produced and it drew the inevitable response by way of a raft of submissions. A report was presented to the Minister for Labour in 1990. In 1991 under the Programme for Economic and Social Progress a national apprenticeship advisory committee was established which was followed by the Culliton report and the report of the Moriarty Task Force. Finally, in 1993 the changes in the funding arrangements and the apprenticeship training system were announced and now this legislation has been introduced. I wish to pay tribute to the Minister of State who within three months of her appointment announced that she would introduce this Bill and an apprenticeship scheme which she hoped would serve the country well for many years.

Measures designed to introduce changes for the better are welcome but I am extremely worried that many of the problems that have arisen as the current apprenticeship scheme falls into disrepute have not been resolved. Time and again our hearts have gone out to those who have come to our clinics with what one might describe as "two good hands and a good head", who have spent months hawking his or her talents to the medium and small employer circuit and who are punch drunk and demoralised having been told repeatedly, "sorry, we have no place for you". I have seen dozens of people from my constituency end up with sledgehammers and pickaxes doing raw boned labour on building sites in Dublin or Dundee living not alone on much lower wages but also with the bottled up frustration associated with untapped talent and, in some cases, downright genius.

The reason is that over the years FÁS has progressively reduced the number of direct FÁS-sponsored places in its training centres and switched the emphasis in the direction in which the new proposals are based, that is, insisting that more apprentices must be sponsored by employers. It is this policy which has led to the merry-go-round of myriad refusals and the eventual exclusion of many talented young people.

The reality is that the best employers of young apprentices have, traditionally, been the small and medium-sized businesses but the economic recession has wreaked havoc on these and, by extension, on the apprenticeship scheme. Deputy Rabbitte alluded to the fact that far too many employers regard training as a cost; they do not see the benefit for their company in skill enhancement. We have to accept that many companies which have traditionally employed apprentices cannot afford to sponsor them. In many cases, we are talking about companies with slender profit margins, huge overheads such as rates, levies, PRSI, over-extended credit and cashflow problems. Many are barely able to keep their heads above water with excessive bank charges. Many of the good traditional sponsors of apprentices under the old National Manpower and FÁS schemes were soured by their experiences. They were snowed under and bewildered by the paperwork involved in taking on an apprentice electrician, carpenter or plumber. We seem to be obsessed with red tape and this is killing jobs, enthusiasm and initiative and it has led to the closing off of opportunities for many young people to avail of apprenticeship training.

I am aware that FÁS will deny this but I have seen it happen; when a person from a reasonably comfortable background, without the same manual skills and ability as someone from a less well off background, was unable to obtain sponsorship their parents were able to go to an employer, for example, in my constituency, and undertake to pay the wages, the PRSI and do the paperwork if they would be allowed to use the company name and stamp as sponsor. That is the only way they could get around or circumvent the system and it worked but the problem was that the talented young person in many cases was excluded. There is a danger that this will happen again because companies are genuinely reluctant, for financial considerations, to enter sponsorship arrangements.

The number of companies who support apprentices has been reduced considerably because employers were disgruntled at the fact that FÁS was tardy in reimbursing them for apprentices' wages and other additional costs. This red tape and foot-dragging killed the goodwill not alone of the many employers who were well disposed but also frightened off many other prospective sponsors. Even if the economic recession lifts and there is a tendency or a willingness on the part of a company to sponsor more apprentices companies will not be amenable unless there is a major public relations drive to sell the new apprenticeship arrangement and erase the bad memories some companies had under the former scheme. In this regard, it is vital that career guidance counsellors — there is a number of excellent career guidance counsellors — and FÁS officials establish a bridgehead immediately with employers, a portfolio of receptive companies and dismantle whatever barriers exist and dispel any anxiety or worries companies may have. Any new scheme will have to be simplified, modified, streamlined and devoid of red tape.

Measures designed to introduce changes for the better are welcome. Ultimately, what I want to know and, more importantly, what numerous would-be apprentices want to know is whether we can guarantee that the manually gifted young people, many of whom have failed to gain access to apprenticeship courses up to now, will be guaranteed access and entry under the new appenticeship arrangements. I am extremely apprehensive that the small but valuable number of directly sponsored FÁS apprenticeships will not be a feature of the new scheme. In his contribution Deputy Ryan asked what would happen if an apprentice two years into his course found that the company had gone out of business. There will have to be a safety net to rescue these people. Apart from this, a number of places should be retained by FÁS.

This scheme will be employer led and unless a person can get an employer to sponsor him or her there is no way that they will be able to avail of apprenticeship training. We have been told that the number of apprentices will be increased but I cannot see this happening because this scheme will be employer led and, irrespective of the way we might encourage companies in the interests of skill enhancement which is vitally important, companies will not be in a position to give a commitment to guarantee employment for an apprenticeship for a minimum of three years allowing intermittent breaks to attend off-the-job training at FÁS centres, regional technical colleges and so on. Undoubtedly, some companies will, but I cannot envisage the anticipated boom envisaged by supporters of the Bill.

I like the mix whereby there will be seven phases. Phases one, three, five and seven will involve on-the-job training while phase two will involve training with FÁS and phases four and six will involve training with the regional technical colleges or the Dublin Institute of Technology colleges. It is a good mix but, again, I seek clarification. Like Deputies O'Keeffe, Ryan and other speakers, I believe there should be no dilution of the education content. The Teachers' Union of Ireland expressed reservations about this aspect.

I have been reading the Minister's comments as the Teachers' Union of Ireland has reacted. The Minister makes a valid point that many apprentices are now going in with leaving certificates; heretofore they were going in with group certificates. From the point of view of receptivity, flexibility and adaptability, the maximum education component possible should be retained.

Deputy Quill spoke about the drastic shortage of working opportunities for young people nowadays. The crisis in unemployment for young people is underlined by the fact that the Dublin City Manager recently confirmed that a public advertisement to fill two vacancies for fire brigade staff attracted 2,319 applications. The ESB's annual advertisement for electrical apprentices this year attracted responses from 7,500 applicants but there were only 50 apprenticeships; 7,450 young people were disappointed. For training in its three constituent companies, Iarnrod Éireann, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus, CIE had 2,500 applications for 53 apprenticeship positions. The 36 Army apprenticeship and 30 Air Corps apprenticeships attracted over 4,000 applications. Bord na Móna, which for years trained a large number of high quality apprentices, took on only four apprentices last September in the peat energy section and another two apprentices in the solid fuels section. The situation, therefore, is critical.

Over 15,000 students doing the leaving certificate each year do not get into college either because they do not meet the academic criteria for entry or because of financial circumstances. We should be seriously looking at whether the apprenticeship scheme will meet the requirements of these students. In light of the fact that many of these companies receive substantial amounts of Government equity the Minister should talk to these companies to see if they might lead the way by taking on additional apprentices.

There is a major problem in relation to apprenticeships for girls. One of the problems seems to be psychological as evidenced by the ESB report in which it is stated that they cannot induce girls to apply for ESB positions even though they are very well paid and have the opportunity to reach the top level. For example, there are 1,037 male electricians and only six female electricians. The ratio is somewhat better at apprentice level with 15 women and 184 men but there is still much work to be done.

I welcome the establishment of the proposed National Training and Certification Board. I look forward to graduates coming out with an enhanced qualification which will enable them to ply their wares on world markets and receive recognition, apart from what it will do for our economy.

I have my doubts about this new apprenticeship scheme. I would have preferred to allow the two pilot projects to continue and be evaluated. However, as the Bill had such a tortuous passage to its present stage, I suppose we could not wait any longer. We await the Committee Stage debate when I hope we will have more input.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Jim Higgins, for sharing his time with me.

I welcome the opportunity of addressing the House on this Bill. A number of good things have been said about the Bill but some reservations have been expressed to me. In the short time available to me I hope to outline some of those reservations. They centre particularly on the educational content of the future apprenticeship training course.

The needs and values of a soundly based apprenticeship system cannot be over-emphasised. A strong apprenticeship base will be the key to success within many of our high-employment sectors across the country. The apprentices of today will be the tradespersons, business people and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. I quote from The Irish Times of Tuesday, 9 March 1993. Christina Murphy, education correspondent said:

Going into an apprenticeship and becoming a successful tradesperson may be a more common route to establishing one's own business than acquiring a third level education. According to a recent survey of successful apprentices, 59 out of 180 tradespeople interviewed, one in three had set up in business. Of the winners of the national apprenticeship competition since 1973, who have been traced, one-third had set up their own business, 24 per cent were in senior management or supervisory roles. Another 20 per cent were still employed in the company with which they had trained, 13 per cent were employed in teaching or instructing and 8 per cent had gone on to further education. Only 2 per cent were unemployed.

The fact that one-third of these people were running their own business now proves that there are good business opportunities for qualified people and we should of course encourage people to develop in this area. This is also an endorsement of the successful apprenticeship scheme, which, until now, operated in Ireland.

The OECD in its report "Education and Economy in a Changing Society" placed emphasis on the need for "A high quality of basic education" as an essential prerequisite for a vocationally skilled and adaptable labour force. I quote again from that report: "The role played by initial education and training in OECD countries is crucial for the successful performance of their economies and in broader terms their full functioning as democratic societies".

In the Green Paper on Education it stated:

It is generally recognised that the achievement of economic growth and industrial development is dependent, to a significant degree, on the availability of qualified personnel, with the necessary technical and vocational skills and competences. The availability of skilled personnel is, in turn, dependent on the efficiency and effectiveness in the vocational education and training system. Within the European Community, it is evident that, to a significant extent, the relatively high rate of economic development in countries such as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands is due to their well-developed vocational education and training systems.

The Green Paper goes on to make the following recommendations. First, training must be broad-based rather than job-specific and be such as to encourage the development of a spirit of enterprise and of flexibility of approach to problem-solving situations. Second, standards of general education must be maintained and enhanced as an essential basis for development of higher-level skills and competences. Third, the relationship between the education and training systems and the economy they serve must be strengthened, in order to ensure that the providers of education and training programmes can obtain immediate and clear information on the nature, scope and extent of skills required for economic growth and development. Those recommendations are directly at variance with the new apprenticeship training scheme, as initiated by this Minister. The new modular system, based on apprentice competence, is narrow in its perspective and will lead to a lowering of standards within the apprenticeship system, as previously operated in Ireland.

The broad-based training of the past is being replaced by a narrow "need to know" curriculum. The broader educational components such as mathematics, craft calculations, etc., and other theoretical subjects will be severely curtailed in this new scheme. This must surely be a retrograde step and will lead to tradespersons with fewer academic skills who will be poorly motivated towards advancement to supervisory and management grades in their chosen professions. This is the result of the down-grading of the educational inputs into the new apprenticeship scheme and will close the door to job opportunities that were open to our craftspersons in the past. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of giving apprentices an education for living — an awareness and an understanding of relationships and their role in society, an appreciation of themselves, as persons, and an understanding of their responsibilities to society. This new apprenticeship course will not give this. The standards of training within the new scheme will be subject to a variety of standards. The seven phase module system provides for four of these to be assessed and monitored by the local employer. Let me put forward a possible scenario: a builder, with five employees, takes on an apprentice carpenter. He is approached by this young person to say that he has to be assessed on the geometry of roofing a house. Since the builder is at that stage on his present job the apprentice sees it as an opportunity to prove his skills. I can guess the response from that builder when the apprentice asks if he can roof the house. It will be to sign the document and get on with the job of roofing the house in the usual way. Is that not a real worry? Who is going to standardise the testing of these apprentices on the job? Will standards not be in danger of erosion? Will there be outside monitoring? Who will pay for the materials used in these assessments? Why abandon the tried and tested systems available in the Department of Education? These are crucial questions which need answers.

In a recent article in the Irish Independent, John Walsh, the education editor, wrote:

A sharp drop in apprenticeship recruitment particularly in the construction industry, has raised fears of a skills shortage in the future...

In addition to the recruitment drop, there are now more than 1,000 redundant apprentices. There are a further 451 redundant apprentices——

Under the old system of which the Deputy is so praiseworthy.

——in the motor, engineering, electrical, furniture and printing trades.

The reasons given for the decline are the recession and the change of the new apprenticeship system.

(Laoighis-Offaly): Not at all.

Not from the old system.

Since the recession has been with us for many years, I wonder if the decline is due mainly to the new system——

How could apprentices be redundant from the new system?

——and if there is a need for a reappraisal of the old system and, most importantly, a series of seminars and discussions with all parties involved in the training of apprentices. I notice in that same article in the Irish Independent that the Minister said we were having discussions with employer bodies about this and I wonder what progress has been made in having those people taken on again.

If the Deputy concluded, I would tell him.

Deputy McGrath, without interruption.

It is appropriate that we all get a chance to have our say.

As my colleague Deputy Higgins stated, further criticism of the new system was made by Edmund Riordan, President of the Teachers Union of Ireland, when he stated he was concerned about the educational training sector involved in the new apprenticeship training scheme. The point was made that apprentices taken on today have a higher level of training, but only 60 per cent of new apprentices have leaving certificate standards.

I understand Deputy O'Leary will share time with the Minister. I am obliged to call the Minister at 6.45 p.m. unless she wishes to share some of her time with the Deputy.

The Deputy may proceed.

I compliment the Minister on introducing this legislation, which is badly needed at present. We have awaited a standard based system for apprentices for too long. We need more courses, more places, more training officers and increased training allowances and expenses for apprentices.

I welcome the concept of a national craft certificate which must be attained by craft workers and which recognises national and international standards. There were many main shortcomings under the old scheme. Apprentices could qualify without reaching predefined standards, because the system was not standard based. It was too restrictive in regard to the number of trades designated and covered only a small number of entrants to the workforce annually. Employers did not take sufficient responsibility for training apprentices. The system was an inflexible one, as the Minister stated when introducing the Bill. It was not capable of ensuring that apprentices had either an adequate skills base or that skills were updated on an ongoing basis. That was particularly relevant in trades where technology was rapidly changing. It provided too few opportunities for women and did not facilitate late entry for mature students. It did not reflect that a higher educational entry standard applies in respect of apprentices today than in the past.

The new system should be based on standards achieved rather than the traditional time served system. It is only right that in future recognised craft workers must have attained the national craft certificate. There will be a minimum entry requirement and responsibility for recruitment will rest with industry with the assistance and co-operation of FÁS. Special provision should be made to encourage groups, such as the disadvantaged, to become apprentices. I welcome the Minister's proposal to accommodate people with disability and mature students. The new system will be modular with periods of on and off the job training. I am pleased that the new system is standard based. It will be based on uniform, pre-specified and industrial agreed standards. The standards will be based on the highest standards of international practice. Particular emphasis will be placed on the needs of Irish industry.

I welcome the national craft certificate, which will be a compulsory requirement for craftperson's status, as agreed in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. The new apprenticeship system will have nationally and internationally recognised certification.

I welcome the proposal that the new apprenticeship levy will apply to the principal craft sectors of industry. This will ensure that individual employers will not be directly out of pocket as a result of releasing apprentices for off the job training or education. It will provide an incentive to employers to conform with the requirements of the apprenticeship curricula.

I am anxious to ensure that in so far as possible favouritism is avoided and that the recruitment process is equitable. I know of many cases where complaints were made, particularly in regard to recruitment to sponsorship courses, that they were not fair and equitable. I ask the Minister to ensure that in future the recruitment system will be fair and equitable particularly in regard to sponsorship.

I would like to share two minutes of my time with Deputy Gallagher.

(Laoighis-Offaly): I thank the Minister. I want to make two points. I welcome the introduction of the Bill. As Deputy O'Leary said, I hope it will lead to a more equitable system. Unfortunately, during the past number of years, we have seen a return to the old system where if one had money, one could buy an apprenticeship. That is disappointing. That rules out many trained and skilled people from entry to an apprenticeship. I hope the Bill will go some way towards redressing that position. It took many years to change that practice and it is sad now that there is a return to it. I look forward to its removal.

I urge employers to respond to this initiative. Deputy McGrath mentioned the decline in the number of apprentices. There are many reasons for that. My experience from being involved in the sector for a number of years is that many employers wanted trained people but did not want the expense of training them. There are supports in place now to urge employers to provide training and I urge employers to avail of them for the good of our overall workforce.

I thank the Deputies who contributed to the debate, namely, Deputies Richard Bruton, Quill, Rabbitte, Batt O'Keeffe, Nolan, Seán Ryan, Jim Higgins, McGrath, O'Leary and Gallagher. A large number of Deputies contributed and many others who wished to contribute will have an opportunity to do so on Committee Stage. Many points were raised, but due to time constraints I will not be able to reply to them all.

Deputy Bruton, while generally favouring the introduction of the new scheme, struck a chord with me when he asked if we were dealing with something which has a slightly old fashioned ring to it because of the way we stuck to designated trades, the number of years and the continuation of the narrowing of focus on one trade as distinct from equipping people with multi-skills. His point was well made and I noted it.

Deputy Quill generally approved the Bill and talked of the need to remedy the inequity and to establish a register which would provide a proper system to allow employers make an evaluation at the interview stage.

Deputy Rabbitte welcomed the levy. He referred to the dual system in Germany and bemoaned the lack of acclaim we attribute to vocational skills here. We still tend to acclaim the academic standards and do not give sufficient weight to vocational skills which may be gained by our young people. We could learn a lesson from the German system. Our second level schools, community schools, vocational schools and secondary schools have concentrated on academic subjects. A change has been made in this area. It is everybody's wish that schools offer the traditional academic and vocational skills under one roof.

Deputy Batt O'Keeffe said we should keep the best of the old and mix it with the new, and that is a fair dictum. When introducing a new scheme in any area there are always those who look back as well as those who look forward. It is acceptable to mix old skills with new. Deputy Nolan, in welcoming the new scheme, spoke of his experience within his constituency in Carlow and the awards won through Lapple. He also spoke about the Irish Sugar Company in the town of Carlow and the great tradition of skills and apprenticeships there. Deputy Sean Ryan spoke sound commonsense. While welcoming the new scheme he hoped that the strong educational base evident in the old scheme would be retained.

Deputy Jim Higgins, in a very fine contribution, said that there is too much red tape and that it makes matters very difficult for small businesses in carrying out their business. He said that a PR exercise is necessary to ensure the new scheme makes its mark and that industries respond to it. He also spoke of the need for the scheme to be industry-led. Our intention is to ensure that is the case so that people will accept it. I agree that some industries are experiencing difficulties and are reluctant to implement the scheme. Industries should not take a short term view of the matter. Like all Deputies, Deputy Higgins knows many bright young people whose confidence was diminished due to lack of access to apprenticeships.

Unlike Deputy Higgins, Deputy Paul McGrath does not agree with the modular system. Obviously everybody has their own view on the matter. The points put forward by Deputy McGrath have a sound educational basis and I am sure he had extensive consultation on the matter, which is to be welcomed. I will certainly consider his views. The Deputy said the new system is to blame for making apprentices redundant, but that is not the case because the scheme has not been in operation for long. There is a large quantum of redundant apprentices as a result of the old system, for whom we have to make extensive accommodation arrangements. Some Deputies, including Deputy John O'Leary, expressed the wish that these people be retrained or put on the new scheme of apprenticeships. I repeat there are no redundant apprentices in the new scheme because it has only started. Therefore, it is a fallacious argument. I agree with the Deputy's point on the need for the whole person, the mind, heart and hand, to be engaged in the process of education and training. Clearly where this is the case the best work is done.

Deputy O'Leary spoke strongly about standards and favouritism. It is my wish that the system is free of favouritism and strong on standards. I am not prepared to stand over the type of activity evident in some quarters whereby favouritism is exhibited towards certain people. In a country which contributes £30 million to the apprenticeship system it is unacceptable that that practice is allowed to continue.

Several Deputies from all sides raised the lack of sponsorship and its effect on the future. In the drawing up of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress and other documents published as far back as 1986, there was much talk about the new apprenticeship system but nothing seems to have been done. The idea was that the system would be industry-led, hence the levy, and that it would apply to all industry. A difficulty has arisen with regard to the withdrawal of FÁS sponsorship. This is a problem of which I was conscious long before the new scheme was set up. I am reviewing this matter with a view to devising a system whereby we can retain the industry-led concept while allowing for an element of sponsorship. I hope that these points will be elaborated on Committee Stage. Many Deputies said that some people will be willing to pay for the scheme, but that is unacceptable. Previously in this country coal and iron were the main components of industry, but now they are people and skills. We can learn from other countries and do much ourselves.

The intake of women involves conditioning in the home and school, peer pressure, industry and the general environment, all of which form an enveloping fog through which many young women find it very difficult to make their way into the traditional trades. I visited one FÁS workshop in which there are 11 young men and one young woman who was introduced to me as a wonderful oddity. When I asked this person if she was enjoying her apprenticeship she said she was but that she felt isolated. There is no moral back-up for women in these circumstances.

As regards the extension of apprenticeship to traineeship, I share Deputy Bruton's trepidation as to whether, as is the case in many other apprenticeships, restrictions will apply in this regard. I insist on calling the expansion "traineeship" as distinct from "apprenticeship". Apprenticeship is a fine concept whereby people learn a trade and we will certainly extend its concept to traineeship in many designated areas. The higher the level of skills achieved the higher the level of certification. We hope to establish a national certification board which will provide a passport to young people to ensure their skills are interchangeable and recognised in other countries. I will be working with FÁS and the educational establishments to ensure that such a board is set up.

I will take on board Deputy Gallagher's points in regard to equity and access and the need to include as many people as possible in the new scheme. Difficulties arise in all transitions. Going from the old to the new poses challenges, but for the sake of the country we have to get this matter right.

I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate.

Question put and agreed to.