Written Answers. - Apprenticeship System.

Noel Treacy

Question:

591 Mr. N. Treacy asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment if his attention has been drawn to the serious crisis that currently exists in the apprenticeship services; the action, if any, he proposes to take in order to reverse this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16714/96]

The standards-based apprenticeship system which is operated by FÁS was introduced in September 1993, and includes 25 trades at present. The duration of an apprenticeship is now four years, approximately, and there are seven phases in all — four on-the-job with the employer and three off-the-job in a FÁS training centre or an educational college. I understand there are currently 4,994 apprentices in the system.

Because of the industrial action which took place in FÁS from late 1995 to March 1996, delays have occurred in calling apprentices for their phase 2 training courses in the FÁS training centres. I am informed by FÁS that there are 1,373 apprentices who have completed their first phase of training with an employer and are awaiting a call from FÁS to enter the second phase of off-the-job training. I believe the situation which arose primarily as a result of the industrial action has been exacerbated by restricted capacity in training centres for some trades such as cabinet maker, wood machinist, construction plant fitter, etc., coupled with increased recruitment in these trades during the last year. The fact that in some trades employers, for example, those of agricultural mechanic and the so called "wet trades", find it difficult to release apprentices to the off-the-job phase at certain times of the year and the significant increase in apprenticeship in the larger trades such as electrician, carpenter-joiner and metal fabricator, have combined to create an unsatisfactory situation in the apprenticeship area at present.
FÁS has advised me that it is making strenuous efforts to increase apprenticeship capacity where possible, but is constrained by a number of factors, particularly the need to ensure that, so far as possible, major expenditure is not incurred for what is likely to be a temporary situation. I am advised by FÁS that it has provided an additional 48 apprenticeship places, with a further 150 extra places planned for the near future. FÁS is also negotiating with SIPTU on the employment of temporary instructors to help alleviate the current difficulty. However, negotiations to date have not been fruitful and the matter is scheduled for a hearing of the Labour Court today.
FÁS is confident that the action taken, combined with the other initiatives planned should enable them to make significant inroads into the backlog in the near future.