I am happy to address this question as part of my responsibilities at the Department with responsibility for further and higher education, research, innovation and science. The priority of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, the Minister with responsibility for higher education, Deputy Harris, and me is to offer accessible and inclusive further education and training and higher education for all. Student supports are in place throughout further and higher education to make the transition back to education as easy as possible for the individual.
Last week, I announced an additional €168 million funding package for further and higher education, which includes €15 million allocated to fund technology devices for students, a doubling of the student assistance fund to €16 million, an additional €3 million in funding for mental health services for students and more funding for students with disabilities. Further education and training currently offers opportunities to many young people through bespoke provision such as Youthreach, which is aimed at early school leavers. Most learners on these courses meet the youth guarantee criteria. In addition, a young person who has reached the age of 16 can apply to begin an apprenticeship.
There has been a significant increase in the numbers of people who now find themselves not in employment, education or training as a result of Covid-19 and who are in need of upskilling. The July stimulus package offers a €200 million investment in training and education, skills development, work placement schemes, recruitment subsidies, and job search and assistance measures, which will help those who have lost their jobs to find a new one, retrain or develop new skills. Under this package I have secured 35,000 additional places in further and higher education. These will be delivered through a variety of measures, including the Skills to Compete initiative, provided by SOLAS, Skillnet, Springboard+ and the human capital initiative. The apprenticeship incentivisation scheme will provide an initial €2,000 payment to support employers to take on new apprenticeships in 2020, followed by a further €1,000 payment after the first year's employment to support retention.