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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 24 Mar 1994

Vol. 440 No. 6

Industrial Training (Apprenticeship Levy) Bill, 1993: From the Seanad.

The Dáil went into Committee to consider an amendment from the Seanad.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 1:

Section 3: In page 4, subsection (1), lines 29 to 33, paragraph (b) deleted and the following paragraph substituted:

"(b) The Minister shall, before making an order under paragraph (a), consider the following matters, that is to say—

(i) the potential for the recruitment of men and women in the sector or sectors of industry to be designated;

(ii) whether or not, having taken into account the state of technological development or other factors that the Minister considers relevant, the sector or sectors of industry to be designated are in a new or developing area of industrial activity;

(iii) the potential for developing the skills of apprentices in the sector or sectors of industry to be designated so as to make it possible for them to adapt to technological and other developments;

and the Minister shall, before making such an order, take into account such matters as the Minister considers appropriate to take account of in the circumstances.".

During the debate in this House I accepted an amendment from Deputy Quill. I said I was glad to accept the amendment but that naturally it would have to be sent to the parliamentary draftsman to see if it was acceptable both legally and from the point of view of terminology. The parliamentary draftsman advised that a number of changes were necessary and these have been embodied in my amendment which was agreed by the Seanad earlier this week. In essence, this is Deputy Quill's amendment — the thrust is the same. The revised wording of the amendment, particularly in paragraphs (ii) and (iii), reflects in legal language Deputy Quill's proposals on new and emerging areas of industrial activity and the potential for multi-skilling.

I broadly support this amendment, which meets a number of concerns expressed by Deputies during the debate in this House. We felt that the Minister should be conscious not only of the traditional apprenticeship sectors but also of new and emerging sectors. There is growing evidence to suggest that placement is a problem and that some people find it impossible to complete their apprenticeships, thus giving rise to a number of semi-trained apprentices who are unable to find placements. In dealing with our future training needs, we must concentrate on the needs of the growing number of women coming into the workforce and the development of new areas of industrial training, new skills and multi-skilling. It is clear that the future lies in multi-skilling rather than in the traditional apprenticeship areas which have been beset by demarcation rules.

It has to be repeated that our apprenticeship system has proven to be extremely resistant to change. The Minister must give serious consideration to this matter before deciding on the new areas to be poured into the old casks of the apprenticeship network which have proven very difficult to reform. The Minister has spoken in glowing terms about the traineeship system in other countries which seems to be much more adaptable and much easier to reform. That is my only reservation about the amendment.

The problems in this area arise mainly because of the Government's failure to present to the House a proper White Paper on its plans for training. We are trying to identify well recognised problems in the training area and accommodate all the changes required in the apprenticeship system under the auspices of this Bill. In many ways this is an unsatisfactory way to do our business. We should be debating a White Paper which sets out the Government's strategy, the use of apprenticeships as a proper vehicle for training and the alternative vehicles from other countries which could be used for training so as to meet the emerging needs of women, the need for multi-skilling and developments in the technological area.

I feel somewhat handicapped in dealing with this amendment. I accept the principles in the amendment but I am not 100 per cent satisfied that the traditional apprenticeship system will meet the emerging training needs. While the amendment is an improvement, the Minister must seriously address the defects in the apprenticeship system if she is to meet the needs in this area. Not least among those defects is the issue on which we devoted much time on Second, Committee and Report Stages, namely, the clearly perceived element of inequity in access to apprenticeships. I know the Minister has proposed a voluntary code of practice and has retained certain powers to go beyond that code but before she decides to use the apprenticeship model for all of these new areas of training, we would have to be assured that the voluntary system or its alternative compulsory system for equity in recruitment was in place and working well. We do not wish to see the areas in which women or young people are looking to develop their skills become tied up with the sort of insider network that we have seen in traditional apprenticeships where one cannot get access to an apprenticeship without a sponsor. Those sponsors are effectively the gatekeepers to the spending of £30 million of taxpayers' money between Irish and EU resources. If the proposal is to increase that £30 million to a much larger figure, we must have an assurance that equity of access is dealt with satisfactorily.

Those are the key considerations. We are going back over the Second Stage debate but it is important to emphasise again the need to deal with these issues satisfactorily before we embark on further expansion. When the Government presented its draft proposals on apprenticeships in December 1989 it clearly did not opt for the current apprenticeship system but for an alternative system where FÁS would short-list suitable applicants for apprenticeships and only from that short list would employers have the discretion to recruit. That was flagged as the optimal system by the Government but we had to settle for second best. I do not suggest that was the Minister's fault. It is clearly the fault of the Government as a whole who in its dealing with the social partners did not obtain an agreement that squared up to what it said was the optimal system.

I thank the Minister for putting forward this proposal and I congratulate Deputy Quill for setting out the original draft of the amendment which in a rejigged form should commend itself to the House generally.

I thank the Minister also for taking on board the spirit and substance of my amendment and for the skilful manner in which she steered it through the Seanad. I acknowledge also the support of Members of the other parties.

This is an amendment about which I feel strongly. It is now accepted worldwide that educational development and training is vital for economic development. In the race between trading blocs, high skills and competencies are seen as giving a competitive advantage to those possessing them. It is fundamentally important that our people should have a range of skills to enable them compete successfully with other member states of the EU and non-member states in the rapidly intensifying race for employment and the production of goods.

This is widely acknowledged in the Culliton report, for example, and in the reports of Tansey and Roche and others. Arising from those reports and the concern expressed here, I sought to amend the Bill in a specific way and to highlight deficiencies in our existing training practices, for example, the small number of women participating in apprenticeship schemes. I related the low level of training provided here for women to low income because it is a well established fact that low income is a direct consequence of a low level of skills. I sought to include in this Bill a provision that would help to raise the level of training among women and increase the potential for multi-skilling. All of the people involved in training use the term "multi-skilling". It is a well known and accepted concept within education, within industry and in all areas where people are concerned with training. It is a phrase used widely in the Culliton report in the section dealing with training.

My original amendment which referred to multi-skilling has now come back having gone through Committee Stage here, and in the Seanad, and having been the subject of exhaustive discussions between myself and officials of the Department who conscientiously and competently tried to convey my intention to the parliamentary drafts man. Apparently the parliamentary draftsman, whatever about the concept, cannot cope with the term "multi-skilling". This raises an interesting question that has everything to do with the context but nothing to do with the substance of this Bill. A wide gulf has developed between the language of the marketplace, of those who are involved in organising our training schemes, and our legislators and the language of the parliamentary draftsman.

In my original amendment I referred to an order that the Minister would seek to make under the terms of this Bill. I sought to amend that by saying: "In the making of such an order, the Minister shall at all times take full cognisance of the potential for multi-skilling". That is directly in line with what everyone concerned with training would advocate. The following amendment came back from the parliamentary draftsman:

"The Minister shall, ... (take cognisance of) the potential for developing the skills of apprentices in the sector or sectors of industry to be designated so as to make it possible for them to adapt to technological and other developments".

That is an extremely imprecise way of wording an amendment put forward in this House with a degree of precision that makes it immediately understandable to everyone involved in designing training schemes. There is a vagueness about this amendment that does not reflect my original intention. I respect the effort made by the Minister and her officials to convey my intention to the parliamentary draftsman but the wording of this amendment does not respond precisely to that. It will lead to a type of vagueness that will not improve the present position. My intention was to effect an improvement in the Bill. That was my only intention when I tabled this amendment.

In another section of my amendment I spoke about "the emerging needs of young women" which was supported by all Members and parties in this House. That came back from the parliamentary draftpersons as "the potential for the recruitment of men and women in the sector or sectors of industry to be designated", an extraordinary watering down of what I had in mind. I fully accept that we are now precluded by law from singling out one gender as opposed to the other but it seems meaningless in its present form. Perhaps it might have been better to omit it because, when one examines what has come back to us —"the potential for the recruitment of men and women" it makes you wonder who else we would recruit — chickens and ducks?

"The potential for the recruitment of men and women" is so meaningless it becomes just another bit of waffle. I am precluded in law from making special reference to women, or from trying in that way to advance the needs, as I see them for more women to receive better training, and for better provision to be made in any new legislative measure we enact, to enable that be brought about, I am not certain that what has come back reflects what I had in mind, what the House had in mind and what needs to be said. My amendment tabled on Committee Stage read:

In page 3, subsection (1), between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

"(b) In the making of such an order, the Minister shall at all times take full cognisance of—

(i) the emerging needs of young women,

(ii) new and emerging areas of industrial activity,

(iii) the potential for multi-skilling.".

What has come back to us seems to me to be an exercise in filling pages with words as the amendment from the Seanad reads:

"(b) the Minister shall, before making an order under paragraph (a), consider the following matters, that is to say—

(i) the potential for the recruitment of men and women in the sector or sectors of industry to be designated;

(ii) whether or not, having taken into account the state of technological development or other factors that the Minister considers relevant, the sector or sectors of industry to be designated are in a new or developing area of industrial activity;

(iii) the potential for developing the skills of apprentices in the sector or sectors of industry to be designated so as to make it possible for them to adapt to technological and other developments;

The Minister of State should use her position to engage in some kind of discussions with our parliamentary draftspeople to try to impress on them, if legislation is to be relevant, it will have to resonate in some way to the language of the marketplace, to the language of this House, to the language that is clearly understood and acted upon by education and training, by all those bodies out there. We have a serious difficulty with our parliamentary draftspersons. Clearly there is a language barrier that needs to be breached, something needs to be done about it. Since we are talking about training, if we have to devise a training scheme to bring our parliamentary draftspersons into the language of the last half of the last decade of the 20th century, then let us incorporate it in this amendment.

I am satisfied that the Minister fully understands what I have tried to convey. I am hopeful that, in all her discussions endeavouring to put in place better, relevant and up-to-date apprenticeship schemes here, she will take on board the clearly articulated wishes of every Member who spoke in this House in relation to multi-skilling which is fundamentally important in relation to advancing the rights and needs of women with apprenticeship schemes, in the need to extend properly designed training and apprenticeship schemes to whole areas of industry not yet designated or developed. I am sure the Minister of State will take the thrust of that on board. I thank her for her part in endeavouring to incorporate the bones of what I had tried to advance in the Bill. I also thank her officials for the support they gave me on this. However, it is about time we cut down on the waffle. I had sought to strengthen in law what we all feel needs to be done, which indeed was recommended by people like Culliton and other experts. I am disappointed that it has come back from the Seanad in this very woolly, vague form because it certainly does not reflect the views of the Members of this House who spoke on this aspect of this Bill.

This is essentially Deputy Quill's amendment from Committee Stage and I was happy to support it then. I accept that the Minister of State has made some effort in including it, albeit in a changed fashion, in the Seanad amendment before us.

Part of the problem is that we are endeavouring to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Inevitably we have ranged wider into some of the more fundamental questions posed by industrial training efficiencies than were prescribed in the Bill which sought to do no more than levy a portion of the quite extensive cost of industrial training on employers. In itself that constitutes minimal progress after many years of tussling with the issue. All parties in the House, and the Minister agreed on Second Stage that, unfortunately, most employers seem to view the question of training as a cost on industry rather than an investment in productivity and competitiveness.

Therefore, Deputy Richard Bruton had a very strong, fundamental point when he argued from the beginning for the necessity for a whole rethink of the industrial training and apprenticeship system to have been set out in a White Paper so that we could consider questions like this in context. That is a fundamental argument, one which highlights the difficulty posed for us in dealing with a very narrow aspect of the entire industrial training question.

Competitiveness seems to be the "in" word. We now have a Programme for Competitiveness and Work. I understand the employers wanted to call it a Programme for Competitiveness and the trade unions were successful in having tacked on the terms “and Work”. I am not sure whether, like a lot of things we do, there is too much meaning to that. However, if one is to look at the question of competitiveness, Deputy Quill is quite right in pointing to the significance of industrial training.

I took issue with a colleague in the House yesterday who seemed to be of the view that our special tax regime of 10 per cent was the main plank of our competitiveness in this economy as far as the multinationals are concerned. I do not believe that is the case and the multinationals admit there are other factors for their presence. They are here generally speaking, because we have a well trained, highly educated, English-speaking workforce; because they want to gain access to European Union markets and other reasons in addition to the special tax regime.

This area Deputy Quill has highlighted is a significant factor in international competitiveness. If one does not have a workforce trained to the highest degree possible, that has the multi-skill adaptability and flexibility about which Deputy Quill spoke, our competitive ness is undermined. Therefore, it is difficult to confront an issue as major as this. For example, in my Second Stage contribution, I dealt in passing with the system that obtains in Germany. Other Members of the House agree that although it is a radically different system, we should examine it in terms of revamping policy in this area. We are hidebound by the fact that the Bill is so narrow that it merely deals with the question of whether employers ought to be required to make a contribution to the fairly significant costs of apprenticeship. The Minister will say that she has broadened the Bill somewhat to deal with the question of equitable recruitment. She has, but like Deputy Quill I do not know whether this amendment is more than aspirational. The Minister is now required to consider these matters. Having regard to the traditional profile of apprenticeship and the practices that have obtained for hundreds of years, the Minister can reasonably say she is implementing the letter if not the spirit of this Bill without impacting greatly on the three headings in the amendment. The traditional profile is such and patterns on this question are so ingrained in both sides of industry, that the Minister merely taking those factors into consideration will not bring about a sea change in attitudes which will either facilitate greater equity in access or on the question of multi-skilling.

Deputy Quill has raised an intriguing question on multi-skilling, on which I would like to hear the Minister's views. In industry in 1994 the term "multi-skilling" is as commonplace as any other that has been in vogue since we became an industrial country. I am intrigued as to why the draftspersons should find the word unsuitable. The text of the amendment, paragraph (iii), reads:

the potential for developing the skills of apprentices of the sector or sectors of industry to be designated so as to make it possible for them to adapt to technological and other developments;

Perhaps it means the same thing but I am mystified as to why a term that is in vogue, which is understood by both sides of industry where traditional demarcation is breaking down, is somehow repugnant to the draftpersons. The Minister will be aware that the question of multi-skilling is at the coalface of some disputes that have surfaced recently. It is a bitter pill to swallow for some traditional craftpersons that we are no longer in the era of the one skill, one dimensional approach to craft and so on. Multi-skilling is pertinent and relevant in the context in which Deputy Quill raises it. I do not know, and I am open to being convinced by the Minister, why the term is jettisoned in favour of waffle. I always thought it was the task of Government, with their superior resources to point to imprecision in amendments put forward by the Opposition and to tidy them up. In this case it is the opposite. While I welcome the amendment in so far as it goes, I wonder whether it will be meaningful at the end of the day.

The emerging needs of women was a key factor in this legislation. The Minister is as genuine in supporting these needs as is anybody on this side of the House. However, despite all the well intentioned aspirations in the world, the prospect of the emerging needs and requirements of women in the workplace being acceded to and developed is slim. The enshrining of a mere aspirational intention in legislation will not change that.

The Minister opted for the voluntary code of practice following discussion with the social partners. As I said at the time, it is patently evident to anybody in public life that the views of the social partners matter a great deal more than those of us who seek election to this House. We will see how long that continues and whether it is a good thing. It is time somebody made an academic analysis of the stifling consensus which is smothering debate here, but that is another day's work. The Minister decided to opt for the voluntary code because this was the preference of the social partners. I wish the Minister well, but I am not sure that at the end of the two year trial period, it will have produced a great deal of tangible results. I would like to hear the Minister threaten to review it and take what legislative measures may be necessary in the event of the voluntary code not producing the desired results.

I thank the three Deputies opposite for their practical contribution to the debate. Deputy Richard Bruton spoke on the theme which pervaded his Second Stage contribution, a theme which the other two Deputies support, that is the need for a White Paper on industrial training. It is an idea worthy of consideration. Because the Bill was prepared before my appointment to this Department and it was a good idea to establish a standard based system we wanted to proceed with it. However, there is a wider dimension to industrial training which must be addressed. I recognise that the standards based system is only the first halt on the road towards industrial training. A White Paper now might be a good idea.

While Deputy Quill recognised that we had made efforts with her amendment on Committee Stage, she took issue with the draftspersons. I consulted with officials having accepted Deputy Quill's amendment and was informed that "multi-skilling" is not recognised terminology in law. We work within the constraints placed on us.

Deputy Quill's comments were interesting because we have often been told in our clinics that this Chamber is not relevant and that people outside do not heed what is going on here. Surely, then, we must adapt our language; without using slang. I understand that the jargon of the day cannot be put into law but the term "multi-skilling", is now an accepted industrial work term. Because it is so widely applicable, both in education and training, perhaps it lacks precision. While the Deputy was making her contribution I was again informed that the term "multi-skilling" was the one with which the draftsman found fault. We are precluded by law from saying "women" on their own, it must be "men and women". I asked if it could be "women and men".

What was the Minister told?

I was told it must be "men and women". That is telling enough——

That does not spring from the natural law. They are the thoughts of someone who is calling the shots in the Attorney General's office.

I take the point that one cannot discriminate in law and say "women" on their own but I wanted to see if we could use the phrase "women and men" rather than "men and women" because placing the emphasis on "women" would have its own tale to tell in an implied way. It is something I intend to take up. I relate that incident because of its veracity and because it is quite odd.

On the multi-skilling issue, the parliamentary draftsman said the word must be legal but the gap between what is legal and what is not and what we do in the real world needs to be addressed in more modern language. In the Seanad, Senator Dardis said the old industrial Acts of the 1940s were written in plainer, simpler and clearer language and were more precise. I will commend that to the draftsman and send him a billet doux. I do not know if that is allowed——

The Minister could create a precedent.

Deputy Rabbitte spoke about the need to be competitive and the German tradition. As regards the voluntary code I do not intend to wait until the end of the two years. The Department will monitor the code and if companies do not live up to it we will have to introduce legislation.

In the notes I circulated to Members I set out the trades we brought into the new system last September. By the new system I mean the standards based system. The remaining ten trades are also listed. We will start the second stage of our phased introduction of the new trades this September and the third stage next September. There was clear recognition in the talks between officials in the Department and the EU that we have shifted to the standards based system. They want to know when it will be concluded. The funding has been agreed and arranged. There are strong positive signals coming from Brussels for the new standards based apprenticeship system and I took heart from that.

To those outside bodies who said I did not have sufficient consultation, I met IBEC, CIF, SIMI, ICTU, the Department of Education and the TUI. The construction industry poses difficulties. There are new ways of doing work in that industry. The old large firm taking in its cadre of apprentices each year is being broken down into smaller units. There is not the same belief that physical trades need to be brought along. Though the industry has come quite a distance of the road with me it has not sorted out all its difficulties. We all know the fine system of apprenticeships in the ESB, Aer Lingus, Telecom Éireann, Bord na Móna and Bus Éireann. The local authorities used to have a strong apprenticeship system but they have moved away from that. I will meet all these bodies separately and ask them to enhance their apprenticeship systems. Many young people benefited from these but in latter years the numbers have been limited. I am sure I will be told it is a question of money but perhaps we can come to some arrangement about redistribution. There is a long history and tradition of apprenticeships in these areas which I would like to see enlarged. This has been included in the Programme for Competitiveness and Work.

Over the next six years, la fouchette or not, large sums of money will be given for sewerage schemes, building, water schemes and roads. I put the proposal that each firm tendering for public works must show how many apprentices they will take on to the CIF and they did not faint on the spot. This has also been included in the programme. I know Deputy Rabbitte will tell me not to hold my breath. I do not know if it will infringe on EU rules.

This is only the beginning. This is a Pandora's box and it took all my skills to come to grips with it. I have not done so yet. I pay tribute to FÁS who is committed to the new apprenticeship system and training. The existing trades are the practical ones but in the new arena I want them to be apprenticeship/training and free from much of the bureaucracy which has needlessly hindered progress on the road to the new standards based system. I look forward to further debates on industrial training and am considering issuing a discussion document on the way forward in this area.

I thank Deputies for their strong inputs to the debate.

I appreciate what the Minister said. Most people would consider that the language is convoluted. At the end of the day what matters in relation to the recruitment of women and opportunities for women is not what we put into the law and whether we put "women" before "men" but what the Minister intends to do about it. It seems the Minister has shied away from the Commission for the Status of Women's suggestion of apprenticeship quotas. There is the additional difficulty that of the 30 female apprentices in traditional areas who were taken on none has completed the apprenticeship. The issue is not the language but what it directs the Minister and her successors to do and that is what I am interested in hearing from the Government.

I accept the Minister has had wide consultations but evaluation and not consultation is the issue. We need to take on board the views of all representative bodies, large and small, and if they say the system is not working to meet their needs or they raise questions on the standards reached we have to take their criticisms seriously. Fine Gael tabled an amendment to build evaluation into the apprenticeship scheme but the Government did not respond positively. Evaluation of the new system will be critical.

It is all very well for the Government to talk about building in a requirement to employ apprentices, but putting requirements into contracts that the Government does not honour in its internal workings is not convincing. The Government has been extraordinarily slow in developing new systems of employment within its own remit that would bring more women into the workplace, such as flexitime, job sharing and other measures to facilitate women in the workplace. When faced with an equality ruling that suggested that married women might have the right to return to the public service it decided to abolish that right enjoyed by widows and deserted wives under a previous code. One wonders how convincing the Government is when preaching to other sectors. Training and apprenticeships in the public service are nothing to boast about. The Government should lead by example and not just by inserting statements in contracts.

The Bill, as initiated, was short and specific but the Minister was good enough to broaden the discussion and the Bill is better for it.

I support Deputy Bruton's recommendation on the need to put in place a comprehensive discussion document on apprenticeships and training. We know what is wrong but we are not clear at all times how to put it right. We are aware that a number of training schemes are not yielding what young people and their parents expect. I hope that when we are spending our allocation of European Union funds we will make a proper evaluation of the training schemes that are working well and seek to strengthen and enhance them and make other necessary changes to ensure that young people get a good return on the money invested in them. The future of the country depends on the level of skill and training of its workforce. They are our greatest asset and are much more important than building bridges, tunnels or interpretative centres. The investment we make in education and training will serve us well as we enter an era of intense competition. Education and training is the key. It is important that the schemes are well designed and that we spend resources wisely.

I attempted to address in my amendments the poor level of training for women which leads to low paid work. We need to put in place training of a standard that is equivalent to that in competing countries. That can only be addressed fully and logically in the context of a comprehensive discussion document. I appeal to the Minister to bring forward such a document as soon as possible. Many apprenticeship schemes are in chaos and young people are finding it extremely difficult to secure an apprenticeship. A Member recently said that it is now easier for a young person to get a place at university than to get an apprenticeship. That tells us how apprenticeship schemes are viewed. It will have to be remedied. That can be done only in the context of a comprehensive discussion drawing on the expert advice available. A number of reports by experts tell us how we should design our training schemes and we ought not to ignore them. We face a huge task in that we have to alter the attitudes to training.

Deputy Rabbitte told of the successful training and apprenticeship schemes in Germany. It is the tradition that German employers have an obligation to the upcoming generation to ensure they get the best training possible and they discharge their obligation in the most practical way possible. Irish employers do not always see their obligation in that light. There is an obligation on everybody to cultivate that type of attitude and impress on employers their duty to play their part in ensuring that the young workforce is trained to the highest possible standard. That will involve a great deal of consultation and discussion. The Minister has a key role to play — I acknowledge that she is playing it actively — in persuading employers to change their attitudes to training.

Changes are taking place in formal education and a much greater emphasis will be placed on vocational training in mainstream senior cycle education. These changes are being put in place by the Minister for Education. In my time the person with a good head for books was a great person who would do great work in the country but nobody ever praised the child who had a good pair of hands, a good eye or a great deal of creativity. Nothing was as important in my day as having a good head for the books. There has been a change in thinking and this is reflected in formal education. In parallel with this we must introduce training schemes.

Reference has been made to the use of unparliamentary language; I do not want the word "multi-skilling" to become the new "F" word. Will the Minister of State drag the parliamentary draftsman screaming and kicking into the 20th century in regard to the language deemed to be legal?

I thank the Members who contributed to the debate. On the question of apprenticeship and industrial training this debate only marks the beginning. I look forward to many other debates.

Question put and agreed to.
Amendment reported and agreed to.