That Dáil Éireann:
recognises the critical importance of apprenticeships and vocational education and training;
— the lack of apprenticeships is impacting the current construction industry and has the potential to hamper economic growth as the results of Brexit hit Ireland;
— youth unemployment is still at 12 per cent;
— of the 1,500 registrations targeted by Government for new business-led apprenticeships in 2018, only 410 starts (27 per cent of target) had taken place by 30th September this year, while the 2017 target was missed by 58 per cent;
— approximately two per cent of school-leavers are participating in apprenticeships; and
— only two per cent of the total apprentice population are female;
— apprentices advance and excel in the sectors they are involved in;
— a shift has taken place away from traditional craft apprenticeships in Ireland;
— there are currently only 41 apprenticeships while hundreds of different apprenticeship types exist in countries such as Germany;
— the current low number of apprentices registered this year in trades such as bricklaying (57), plastering (24) and floor and wall tiling (0), will create a large skills shortage that will negate the housing targets set by Government; and
— the Action Plan to Expand Apprenticeship and Traineeship in Ireland 2016-2020 aims at delivering 50,000 apprenticeships and traineeship registrations by 2020; and
calls on the Government to:
— recognise the value and appropriate status of apprenticeships as an equally valuable alternative to traditional education;
— recognise that apprenticeships are awarded high levels of qualification and offer great career choices and progression;
— improve linkages between third-level institutions and industry to improve access to newly developed apprenticeships;
— support the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission leading by example in the provision of parliamentary apprenticeships;
— create a mix of apprenticeship schemes within public body organisations including:
— horticulture, run by council parks and landscape departments;
— engineering, journalism, digital media or broadcast production in Raidió Teilifís Éireann;
— international relations run by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and
— Health Service Executive apprenticeships for support or technician occupations in healthcare, amongst others;
— expand the role of Seirbhísí Oideachais Leanúnaigh agus Scileanna (SOLAS) in initiating and driving new apprenticeships, by creating a fully resourced specialist internal apprenticeship unit that concentrates solely on generating new apprenticeships, and expanding the role of SOLAS in initiating and driving new apprenticeship opportunities among employers;
— open apprenticeship offices and revamp the www.apprenticeship.ie website to provide information for anybody interested in apprenticeships and further education;
— encourage Irish-resident firms and others with international apprenticeships to set up such schemes here;
— encourage large technology companies to offer apprenticeships in Ireland, in areas such as software engineering, online security, web development, data centre management, legal and policy roles;
— support Irish businesses to offer apprenticeships across various sectors, such as childcare, hair and beauty, hospitality (waitressing, reception, accommodation, and beverage), sports and leisure, social care, office administration and institutional cleaning;
— establish a taskforce to examine a limited form of apprenticeship training or short courses during transition year and target both young men and women to partake;
— intensify the promotion of apprenticeships among the public through the introduction of an annual National Apprenticeship Week;
— focus on promoting apprenticeships among specific groups, including persons with disabilities, older people and immigrants, and improving gender balance;
— address the shortfall in the number of apprenticeships in the construction sector in the coming years through the introduction of a shared apprenticeship scheme; and
— improve the delivery of quality-assured apprenticeships and ensure annual forecasting of all apprenticeship types by SOLAS.
I am sharing time with my colleagues. I am glad to see the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills here.
The purpose of this motion is to put forward and promulgate a new attitude towards apprenticeships to try to grow and encourage the spread of apprenticeships and also to highlight the value of them and the need for people to consider apprenticeships as a serious career option, as something that is available, worthwhile and equal to the traditional third level route in many cases.
Ireland is facing a series of challenges from Brexit to the housing crisis and skills shortages across a variety of sectors. Despite this, we are not seeing delivery in either the scale of new apprentice places required or the rapid expansion of the type of apprenticeship on offer. It is a hands off approach by the Government.
Of the 1,500 registrations for apprenticeships targeted by the Government for new business led apprenticeships in 2018, only a quarter have started. We have missed the 2017 targets by 58% and these are modest targets that are being missed.
Approximately 2% of school leavers are participating in apprenticeships and that tells me that students do not see an apprenticeship as a serious option and they are not being guided in the direction of it being a serious option by society and maybe their families also do not value apprenticeships as a serious option. That is something that we all have to address and what Fianna Fáil wants to achieve with this motion is that the Dáil will become a champion for apprenticeships as we suggest. We will let people know that they are there, we will try to push the Government to do more and we promise that we will do a lot more if we are in power but we have to ensure that people see this as a viable option.
I know that the Minister of State is doing work on this in third level but one of the most serious statistics is that only 2% of apprentices are female and that is the most unbalanced gender statistic in this country.
We are lagging far behind Britain and many EU countries in the scale and diversity of apprenticeships currently offered here and the truth is that if we are able to expand, develop and change the attitudes towards apprenticeships we would be some way towards dealing with the issue of the crisis in third level funding.
If we are to meet those challenges the structures which govern apprenticeships need to be brought into the 21st century.
There is a longstanding emphasis placed on the critical importance of apprenticeships and vocational and educational training in Europe and worldwide. We see this in Switzerland where decisions are made about vocational and academic training at an early age and we see it in Germany where a large amount of young people do apprenticeships rather than go to third level. The Government has been extremely late in facing the need to develop and advance the apprenticeship sector here. I am pleased that we are bringing forward this debate because it is an issue and a theme that is rarely discussed in this House.
My colleague John Lahart said to me some time ago that someone asked him where apprenticeships have gone when he was knocking at a door. People valued, wanted and aspired to an apprenticeship years ago but that aspiration does not seem to be achievable now or the attitudes in society are wrong or the information is not readily available.
Ireland must have a much broader, fully functioning apprenticeship model. We want to construct new apprenticeship structures that are accessible, affordable and attractive.
Our motion calls for the creation of a mix of apprenticeship schemes within public bodies, which should be leading by example. I have previously called for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to copy and paste what is being done in the House of Commons and I repeat that call today. The House of Commons has a fully functioning apprenticeship scheme which gives the young people involved the opportunity to qualify in the Houses of Parliament. It also sends a signal that the leaders of society, those in the Houses of Parliament, are leading by example and demonstrating that apprenticeships are a viable option for people.
We want to expand the role of SOLAS in initiating and driving new apprenticeships because we do not believe it should be left to businesses to decide what will happen. We need to drive this ourselves in terms of skills development. We need to open up apprenticeship offices and make them accessible to people and to revamp and promote the apprenticeship website. We also need to pursue Irish resident firms and large technology companies which offer apprenticeships in other countries, particularly in the UK, but do not offer them to any great extent in Ireland. We have a great apprenticeship tradition in the semi-State sector, with the former semi-state company, Aer Lingus, offering apprenticeships, as well as the ESB, for example. That could be massively expanded throughout the public and semi-State sectors.
We must provide enhanced supports to businesses to offer apprenticeships across various sectors and establish a task force to consider pre-apprenticeship training in schools. We want to see an intensification of the promotion of apprenticeships to the public, with a focus on apprenticeships among specific under-represented groups such as people with disabilities and women. We need more women apprentices urgently.
Traditionally, organisations such as county councils and semi-State companies have run apprenticeship schemes for craft occupations. There is no reason this cannot be expanded further. What is required is leadership from Government in terms of outlining what we want and the direction in which we should go. I have already mentioned my proposal regarding the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission but there are other initiatives that should be considered. We could have apprenticeships in horticulture run by council parks and landscape departments and apprenticeships in engineering, journalism, digital media or broadcast production run by RTÉ. People are going to college to learn these skills in an academic environment but it could be done in a workplace environment. We also need to see further initiatives in organisations such as the HSE. While I have cited England as an example of a country with a good apprenticeship system, I do not support the half-baked proposal to establish an apprenticeship programme for teachers. I am glad to say that this proposal has been dropped but there are many other good ideas emanating from the UK.
It is not enough to let the Apprenticeship Council call for proposals and then adjudicate on the submissions made by applicants. This laissez-faire approach means that consortia are left to come up with ideas, plans and funding proposals. That said, some of these ideas and proposals are really good, including the insurance practitioner apprenticeship, for example, which provides a model for where we should be going, although the provision and uptake are far too low. The message that must be sent out regarding the insurance practitioner apprenticeship is that it is the equivalent of a third level degree. It is a level eight qualification and is not a soft option for those who did not get into college. It is actually quite a difficult option, with apprentices going into the workplace and studying alongside that in order to qualify. We need more of these types of apprenticeships but we cannot leave it to business to make provision. As a State, we must increase our involvement and lead by example.
Apprenticeship offices that are accessible would provide a one-stop shop for those developing apprenticeship schemes and those participating in such schemes to receive advice and information. We need Facebook, Amazon, Google and similar companies to be encouraged to get involved. I have no doubt that if they get the nod from Government, they will copy what they are doing in other countries and enhance their apprenticeship offerings in this country. My colleagues will refer to the skills shortages in our economy, particularly the shortage of chefs and construction workers.
The purpose of this motion is to change attitudes and perceptions and get more people to consider apprenticeships. We must send out the message that apprenticeships have not gone away and that they are available and a viable option for many.