I thank the Deputy. We are committed to significant expansion in apprenticeships to secure the targets set out in the apprenticeship action plan, given the key role of apprenticeship in meeting key workforce needs.
Apprenticeship is a demand-driven educational and training programme, which aims to develop the skills of an apprentice in order to meet the needs of industry and the labour market. The development of new apprenticeships is employer-led, with consortia comprising employer groups and educational providers coming together to identify a skills need and appropriate apprenticeship response in their sector. A defined process, structure, and financial incentive, through the apprenticeship incentivisation scheme, for employers to become engaged in the apprenticeship process is in place. It is open to any industry that wishes to explore options for developing an apprenticeship to bring a proposal forward. The SOLAS guidance document for submitting an initial proposal for a new national apprenticeship, together with its handbook on developing a national apprenticeship, provide an overview of the key features of new apprenticeships, including sectoral engagement and collaboration among enterprises and other stakeholders in the relevant industry. These publications are available on apprenticeship.ie.
There are 62 national apprenticeship programmes currently in operation. This includes 25 craft apprenticeships and 37 programmes introduced since 2016. There are 17 additional new apprenticeship programmes currently in development in sectors such as agriculture, ICT, hospitality, construction, engineering, and commercial driving, with two of these currently scheduled to launch in this year, namely, transport operations and commercial driving, and wind turbine maintenance. In addition, a number of other potential apprenticeships are at an exploratory stage in sectors such as health, beauty, environmental and engineering.
The establishment of the national apprenticeship office is planned by the end of the year to bring a dedicated focus and resources to the programme of work set out in the action plan for apprenticeship aimed at expanding the role played by apprenticeships within the education and training system.