The initiatives and recommendations set out in the LLL report focus on promoting and enhancing access to learning-training, the development of new skills, the acquisition of recognised qualifications and progression to higher level qualifications. The task force stressed the need for co-ordination between the Departments of Education and Science and Enterprise, Trade and Employment and called for the establishment of an overarching structure to co-ordinate, review and report on the implementation of the framework set out in the report and the recommendations underpinning it.
At the time the report of the task force was published in 2002 the Government decided that the National Adult Literacy Council, NALC, be designated as the body to co-ordinate, review and report on the implementation of the framework set out in the report. The Government also decided that a steering committee, to be chaired by a senior official of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, should be established to oversee and direct the work of the National Adult Literacy Council in so far as it relates to the implementation of the report of the task force on lifelong learning. The steering committee continues to meet periodically to review progress on implementation.
The National Adult Literacy Council, which will be representative of providers and other stakeholders in the learning sector, has not been formally established and has consequently been unable to discharge the role given to it in relation to the task force report. The Department of Education and Science is reviewing the functions of the NALC and, pending the establishment of the NALC on a statutory basis and the assignment of staff, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, together with FÁS and other relevant agencies, is implementing a range of the actions set out in the report including the following. The accreditation of prior and experiential learning, already begun by FÁS in construction, retail, child care and teleservices courses, will be extended to apprentice plasterers and bricklayers in September 2005. In this regard FÁS has agreed a pilot model for the accreditation of prior and experiential learning with stakeholders including FETAC. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, in co-operation with the Department of Education and Science, has set up an ICT fund, which is being administered by the Higher Education Authority, and which is funding schemes for upskilling workers in the IT sector. The national FÁS-Enterprise Ireland register of trainers is now in place and is available to the public on the websites of both organisations. FÁS is implementing its basic skills needs initiative to address issues identified in the task force report. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment approved a project proposal from national adult literacy association to design and deliver a workplace basic education programme for SMEs. The FÁS national contact centre has been expanded to provide guidance-information and job seeking services, as well as a vacancy-taking service, to employers. FÁS has extended the range of courses available outside of standard working hours and targeted primarily at those in employment, including "24/7" access to e-learning courseware via FÁS e-college. Agreement has been reached on the extension of the training networks programme, from the completion of its current phase next year, up to 2010. FÁS is continuing to enhance and expand its excellence through people award and is working in co-operation with Enterprise Ireland to ensure the programme reaches relevant companies. The funding from the national training fund for the Institute of Engineers of Ireland's continuing professional development programme has now been extended up to the middle of 2007. A FÁS commissioned advertising campaign is in place to raise awareness and promote services available for all client groups.
Looking towards the future, while Government would wish to see the vision of the task force fully realised it can only help create the framework conditions for lifelong learning. It requires a response from individuals and enterprises to make learning, and the potential benefits it can deliver, a reality. The task force report indicated that lifelong learning requires a significant cultural and attitudinal change on the part of providers, learners, employers, the public service and Government. A core element of that cultural shift will involve viewing learning not as a cost but as an essential investment, which has tangible economic, personal and societal returns.
What we are seeking to bring about at a national level also reflects commitments we have taken on at a European level in terms of contributing to the achievement of the Lisbon Agenda. In this context the report just published from the high level group on the Lisbon strategy for growth and employment, which was chaired by Wim Kok, suggests that member states must devise ambitious policies to raise education levels and to make lifelong learning schemes available to all, and all must be encouraged to take part in them.