Uptake of Apprenticeships and Traineeships: Discussion (Resumed)

I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones or switch them to flight mode because, as we know, they interfere with the sound system and make it difficult for parliamentary reporters to report the meeting. Television coverage and web-streaming may be adversely affected.

We will resume our engagement on the uptake of uptake of apprenticeships and traineeships. We had the opportunity to engage with four sets of stakeholders last week. The discussion was certainly very informative and interesting so it is good to have the opportunity to have four more individuals representing their august bodies today. We already agreed we would have some written correspondence from other individuals. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Mr. Peter Davitt, CEO of FIT Limited, and Mr. Tony Donohoe, head of education and social policy in IBEC. Mr. Donohoe has been before us on a number of occasions and is very welcome back. Also joining us are Dr. Phillip Smyth, head of Shannon College of Hotel Management, and Ms Nessa White, the relatively new general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI. This is our first opportunity to wish Ms White well in her appointment. We wished her predecessor, Mr. Michael Moriarty, well on his retirement on his last occasion to appear before the committee. I will invite each witness to make an opening statement no longer than three minutes, to be followed by engagement with the members.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If, however, they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Any opening statements made to the committee will be published on the committee website after the meeting.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I call on Mr. Davitt to make his opening statement on behalf of FIT.

Mr. Peter Davitt

FIT is thankful for the opportunity the committee has given it to contribute to its review. FIT is the co-ordinating provider of two ICT apprenticeships, for associate professionals in software development and network engineering, respectively. We were successful in the first call for submissions. One might think of us as a good case study of the challenges and opportunities that can arise in expanding apprenticeships into sectors and occupations where there is no tradition of apprenticeship.

FIT was established in 1999 to promote an inclusive smart economy. Its board members are senior executives in leading technology sector companies. Over the past 20 years, in collaboration with FÁS and VECs, and latterly SOLAS and education and training boards, we assisted 18,500 jobseekers in gaining access to quality ICT training, of whom over 14,000 have secured employment. The majority of these candidates have not been third level students, much less graduates who studied STEM subjects. Prior to the first call for new apprenticeships, FIT had piloted a new dual-education, two-year training programme called ICT associate professional at NFQ level 6 – FET – in collaboration with the Department of Education and Skills, SOLAS and eight education and training boards. On this precursor to the technology apprenticeships, 259 candidates were sponsored by 143 companies, with 85% of those completing securing employment. In collaboration with Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board, KWETB, and Intel, FIT designed and ran a new advanced manufacturing maintenance technician programme at NFQ Level 6. Over 80% of those who completed the programme to date secured employment in Intel and a further 10% elsewhere. The vast majority of these candidates had no previous knowledge or experience in the discipline, further demonstrating how FET can cater for highly technical roles. With the support of KWETB, the capacity of the programme has since been doubled.

In the light of this background FIT welcomed the development of a new national policy on apprenticeships and traineeships, the establishment of the Apprenticeship Council and the creation of QQI quality and programme-validation processes for apprenticeships.

In tandem with the first call, FIT developed two ICT apprenticeships to meet the skills needs of employers while making tech employment more inclusive. The positive response we have got from IT employers led us to adopt the goal of achieving an annual intake of 1,000 ICT apprentices by 2021 through expanding the portfolio of tech apprenticeships into complementary areas, such as cybersecurity, FinTech, DevOps, virtualisation and digital forensics. There is strong employer demand in Ireland for ICT skills. There is demand not just for high skills but also for intermediate or associate professional skills that are well within the capability of appropriately designed FET programmes. In periodic ICT skills audits based on large numbers of face-to-face interviews with IT employers, FIT has consistently found the majority of posts they were seeking to fill required the exercise of skills at levels they described as entry or competent rather than expert. Employment of ICT practitioners is concentrated in our four largest cities but there are now growing pockets in every region, some of which have grown particularly rapidly.

To ensure the shared ambition for modern apprenticeships becoming a key source of talent acquisition for employers and an option of choice for many jobseekers, it is FIT's view that there are aspects of the current programme needing attention and enhancement. Existing administration processes for the new apprenticeships need to be reviewed to ensure fitness for purpose. A national and persistent promotional campaign needs to be implemented immediately to ensure broad appreciation of the range of apprenticeships now available and in development, with particular emphasis to encourage more women to consider the opportunity. The final aspect concerns the adoption of funding models that support more effectively the early-stage development and implementation cycle of new apprenticeships and take account of the diverse needs that pertain across sectors.

While early take-up may be challenging, requiring a change in mindsets, more ambitious targets for the expansion of new apprenticeships are necessary to sustain the job growth in Ireland's buoyant economy through a broadening of talent pipelines.

I thank Mr. Davitt. I now call on Mr. Tony Donohoe, head of education and social policy, IBEC.

Mr. Tony Donohoe

I thank the committee once again for this opportunity.

While I understand that the committee is concerned about uptake and the reputation of apprenticeships among young people and their families, the main focus of my opening remarks is the take-up of apprenticeships by employers. Employer buy-in is critical, as the apprenticeship and traineeship models depend on employers taking on apprentices.

I do not underestimate the challenge of shifting attitudes in a society that still defines educational achievement in terms of CAO points and direct entry to higher education. I am convinced, however, that if we could offer real alternatives to ambitious and capable young people and, most critically, real progression opportunities up to advanced degree level through apprenticeships, attitudes could be changed. Apprenticeships would no longer be second-best options.

It is almost six years since IBEC was invited to participate on the then Government's review of apprenticeship training. At the time, it was felt that the apprenticeship system, which was limited to 26 craft-based occupations, did not reflect the broad skill needs of the Irish economy. The review suggested a new model of business-led apprenticeships that could boost skill levels across the economy and help to get people into quality, sustainable jobs. A lot of effort has been put into the new apprenticeships project to turn this aspiration into a reality. IBEC has at times been frustrated at the speed at which the new apprenticeships have come on stream but, in retrospect, this probably should not be a surprise. This is a major shift for businesses in terms of how they recruit and train people, and for the education system in terms of how it delivers programmes.

We submitted a detailed submission to members in advance of this hearing on how we believe the number of new apprentice registrations could be significantly increased. As members heard at last week's committee meeting, registrations are a year behind schedule in terms of the targets set out in the action plan to expand apprenticeships and traineeships for the period 2016 to 2020.

Our recommendations can be grouped around three main themes: marketing, support for employers hiring apprentices, and governance and streamlining the new apprenticeship approval process.

As the committee heard last week, the apprenticeship campaign has made significant progress in raising the profile of apprenticeships with key stakeholders, such as guidance counsellors, learners, business and the media. However, a targeted campaign on the value proposition of apprenticeships for firms is needed. SMEs and owner-managers are a particularly difficult business segment to address in terms of expanding take-up but they are incredibly important. They tend to be time poor, have limited numbers of staff to support apprentices and may not even be aware of how the potential talent delivered through the apprenticeship system could improve their business.

A major obstacle to the expansion of new apprenticeships, especially among SMEs, is cost. There is strong evidence that the cost of paying a salary and subsistence while the apprentice is off the job becomes a major disincentive. Our submission includes a case study which demonstrates that the total cost of a newly recruited apprentice manufacturing engineer is approximately €90,000. Therefore, we believe that the cost of funding new apprenticeship off-the-job wages, plus travel and subsistence costs where necessary, should be supported through the National Training Fund. This would also address the anomaly whereby similar costs for traditional craft apprenticeships are subvented.

I now wish to address the issue of governance and streamlining the approval process. The landscape around the development and promotion of apprenticeships is fragmented with multiple actors. These include the Department of Education and Skills, SOLAS, the Higher Education Authority, Quality and Qualifications Ireland, two apprenticeship advisory committees, education and training boards, higher education institutions, multiple industry groups, and trade unions. This can lead to disconnections and delays. We believe the time has come to consolidate these different elements into a dedicated agency, working with business consortia and education providers, to oversee the funding, development and promotion of apprenticeships.

The new apprenticeship project has been developed under the legal framework of the Industrial Training Act 1967. At one level, it is testimony to the amount of goodwill that exists towards apprenticeships in the system that any new apprenticeships have been delivered through a 40 year old legal framework that was designed for a different industrial era.

All the legal requirements in the 1967 Act around protections, rights and responsibilities of apprentices and employers are still valid. However, other requirements have made the development of new apprenticeships and the registering of new companies a bureaucratic process. This can be seen in the 12 steps laid out in the apprenticeship plan. The Government committed to an overall timeframe of 12 to 15 months from development to roll-out. This has not been achieved and, in some instances, proposals that were approved after the first call in January 2015 have not come on stream.

There is a major challenge around keeping companies engaged which originally expressed interest in the apprenticeship project. Given the constantly changing business environment and skills requirement, the system needs to respond more swiftly.

Having said all that, I will finish by acknowledging the progress made and stating that business remains firmly committed to the apprenticeship project. The project is gaining momentum. If we address some of these outstanding issues, it can be significantly scaled up, deliver new opportunities for young people, and improve the competitiveness of business.

I thank the committee for this opportunity and look forward to answering its questions.

I thank Mr. Donohoe. I now move to Dr. Smyth, who is the head of Shannon College of Hotel Management. Shannon College does not operate apprenticeships per se but I know from experience it operates placements successfully as part of its working programmes. While the committee is examining apprenticeships, it is interested in all forms of training, particularly on-the-job training. We felt it was important to have the opportunity to talk to Dr. Smyth, especially with the challenges facing the hospitality sector and given that the college is involved in WorldSkills. We had a presentation from the young people who represented Ireland last year and we were all impressed with them. It is definitely something that we want to pursue and support.

Dr. Phillip Smyth

I thank the committee for the invitation to submit. I will speak under the following three headings: why a contribution from Shannon College, the reasons for low uptake, and recommendations.

As to why, Shannon College, NUI Galway, is successful in educating leaders for hotels and hospitality. It recruits high-calibre candidates to level 8 programmes, retains them, equips them with professional, business and life skills, places them in the workplace and ensures that they are employed when they graduate. Its alumni have been influential in hospitality and tourism. The founder, Dr. Brendan O'Regan, was told in 1951 that there were not jobs for 12 qualified hoteliers in Ireland. Shannon College now has 500 students.

Its comprehensive placement programmes promote strong links with the employer and a deep understanding of skills requirements. We attract significant numbers of quality applicants for the hospitality sector, which traditionally is not well regarded by such influencers as career guidance counsellors and parents, who have negative perceptions about work-life balance and abilities required.

As to why there is low uptake, first, in hospitality, the availability of labour for tourism and hospitality tends to be countercyclical in all developed countries. While very hospitable and friendly, our history makes us uncomfortable with service, in my opinion, and therefore there is a widespread underestimation among the population of the level and range of skills required in hospitality and, more importantly, the opportunities.

During the recession, tourism was recognised as a pillar of the economy. Perception improved though such initiatives as The Gathering and the Wild Atlantic Way. Irish people who previously would not have considered tourism as a career started to work in hospitality. Unfortunately, this is now being reversed with admissions to all hospitality programmes declining. There will be at least 60,000 additional jobs in the next ten years - at the tourism conference in Killarney two weeks ago, they were talking about 80,000 - and industry practitioners are pessimistic about filling them domestically. Exacerbating this outlook is the fact that provision for apprenticeships in hospitality is weak.

In Ireland, the prestige of apprenticeships has definitely declined. There is still great respect for the tradesman, the expert or the artisan, but it has been overwhelmed, as IBEC stated, by the ever-present media, public and private discourse on points, CAO deadlines, college places, change of mind dates, accommodation, etc. In Switzerland, two thirds of 15 year olds enter apprenticeships which are highly valued in society. If a Shannon College graduate who was placed in Switzerland wants to go back to be a manager there after graduation in Ireland, he or she must go back to the beginning of the apprenticeship system.

On recommendations, State-funded research is required into attitudes to apprenticeship to inform a long-term marketing strategy. This strategy, with a strong message around words such as "expert" and others I have mentioned, should include the use of school liaison officers, which has been successful, as the committee will see from the main submission from Shannon College.

Consideration should be given to level 8 apprenticeships, if only to address the negative educational perceptions of the overall apprentice scheme. Ireland should host WorldSkills as soon as possible to boost the image of apprenticeships in the country generally.

Leaving certificate subjects and curricula should be evaluated to see to what extent they can lead to apprenticeships, both in terms of motivation but also content. It is strongly recommended that a separate subject in tourism and hospitality be offered. It is amazing that in the current business studies programme in the leaving certificate there is no hospitality or business section while one in nine of the working population is employed in hospitality and it is a pillar of society.

Lastly, there is an urgent need for the development of a comprehensive suite of apprenticeships in hospitality. I recognise, however, that this would be difficult, and two good chef trainee programmes, at levels 6 and 7, have been developed.

I thank Dr. Smyth. I now ask Ms White to take the floor.

Ms Nessa White

On behalf of Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI, and the 16 education and training boards, ETBs, that ETBI represents, I am most pleased to be given the opportunity to make this statement to the committee.

ETBs are statutory authorities which have responsibility for education and training, youth work and a range of other statutory functions.

ETBs manage and operate second level schools, further education colleges, community national schools and a range of adult and further education centres in communities throughout Ireland.

Since the call for apprenticeship proposals by the council in 2015 and subsequently in 2017, ETBs have been actively engaged in expanding the range of apprenticeship offerings within the further education and training sector in collaboration with industry. They have worked closely with SOLAS, the Apprenticeship Council and other stakeholders while continuing to deliver craft apprenticeship training nationally. The commis chef apprenticeship was rolled out in Kerry in the fourth quarter of 2017, with 125 apprentices registered with 104 participating employers. The auctioneering and property services apprenticeship has been rolled out in Dublin and Cork, with 52 apprentices registered with 40 participating employers. The butcher apprenticeship was rolled out recently and registrations are ongoing for the 2018 intake. The original equipment manufacturer engineering apprenticeship was validated recently, following engagement with Quality and Qualifications Ireland, and is preparing for roll-out in Cavan-Monaghan and Limerick-Clare ETBs. The remaining five new industry-led apprenticeships are in development and preparing for submission to Quality and Qualifications Ireland. ETBs have been actively engaged with industry partners since 2016, with 24 new traineeships introduced to date. As Dr. Smyth has mentioned, four traineeships were rolled out in 2016 in the areas of hospitality, engineering and interior systems. An additional six traineeships were introduced in 2017 in the areas of animation, certified accountancy pathway, digital sales and marketing, engineering operations, hairdressing and laboratory assistance. There has been a significant increase in 2018, with 14 new traineeships being rolled out with another ten traineeships are planned.

The uptake of people participating in new apprenticeships and traineeships has been lower than projected. Several factors need to be considered to understand and inform the current challenges. The SOLAS-authorised officers appointed in ETBs need to reflect the expansion of the apprenticeship model and the requirement to engage and support employers. Ways of attracting, incentivising and supporting employers who employ and train apprentices need to be considered further. As previous speakers have mentioned, the ETBI will continue to work with SOLAS, the Apprenticeship Council, the Department of Education and Skills and other stakeholders to enhance the marketing and promotion of apprenticeships and traineeships at national level. The ETBI acknowledges the importance of career guidance to empower young people to make well-informed and sustainable educational choices. As we address some of these challenges, we plan to host a learner-centred further education and training conference to create awareness and understanding of options and career pathways to work-based learning opportunities for learners, parents and career guidance counsellors. I can confirm that following engagement with the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, on 11 December guidance counsellors will have their first opportunity to engage in continuous professional development with a number of stakeholders. This should start to address the challenges in this area. Continued resourcing of the further education and training sector in terms of recruitment and retention of suitably qualified staff and access to state-of-the-art training facilities is critical if ETBs are to continue to support work-based learning in the 21st century.

ETBs have been working collaboratively with industry partners, SOLAS, Quality and Qualifications Ireland and other providers and will continue to do so. We are playing a leading role in the provision of cost-effective, off-the-job training to apprentices and trainees across a wide range of career areas in communities where apprentices and trainees reside. I thank the committee for its time.

Three members have indicated. I will take them before going back to the panel of witnesses. I call Deputy Naughton in the first instance.

I thank the witnesses for their excellent opening statements. The clear message I have taken from them is that there needs to be a change in mindset and a cultural shift. I note Dr. Smyth's request for State-funded research in this area. Has there been one-to-one engagement with people who are on apprenticeships? What has been heard from apprentices during that engagement? When I speak to some of them, they tell me that the lack of money in their pockets is a kind of disincentive. This brings me back to the need for a cultural shift. Perhaps apprenticeship needs to be seen as an educational process that eventually leads to a fully fledged career. What are the blockages on the ground for the apprentices who are going through these systems? The explanation does not need to be scientific. There is a need for role models to go into schools. The work of career guidance teachers needs to be complemented by people who can walk into schools and talk about their careers. Perhaps they did not like school and were more interested in certain things outside school, such as the craft industry. I take the point that the trades are seen as more popular. We need to start focusing on apprenticeships as a means of opening up possibilities for young people. That is an important side of the debate. Role models need to go into schools. In the experience of the witnesses, what do apprentices say about the blockages? The need for a cultural shift and a change in mindset is a key point that we need to overcome.

I thank the witnesses for attending today's meeting and making their insightful presentations. I would like to ask a couple of questions about upskilling in the energy-efficiency sector. As Ms White will be aware, Waterford-Wexford Education and Training Board is developing a centre of excellence in the area of nearly zero-energy building. Limerick Institute of Technology has worked with the board to develop the training content for programmes that will upskill electricians, plumbers and blocklayers, etc. I wonder whether Ms White might comment on this specific project. Are other ETBs looking to take it up? What lessons can be learned from this initiative as we seek to make sure there is investment in apprenticeships and to recognise the need to shift to the new green economy, which will provide job opportunities? Do the education and training boards need supports in delivering these programmes? Are they getting enough funding and supports for the shift to a green economy that is needed?

It has been said that many of those who are working in new green areas like renovation, retrofitting and energy-efficiency have been trained overseas. What is being done at a regional level to upskill and support the retrofitting sector through the ETBs? Does the ETBI have a policy in that area?

I would like to comment on the gender balance issue as it applies to those who are being fast-tracked into information technology. One of the submissions recommended that there should be a campaign to encourage women to take up apprenticeships. What would that look like? How is it imagined that this could be done in the information technology area and across the wider apprenticeship sector?

I mentioned last week that an incentive - perhaps the equivalent of the Athena SWAN award - might be needed to encourage institutions and businesses to get involved in this area. What would the witnesses think of that as an idea?

What actions are being taken in light of the fact that just 2.75% of apprentices declare themselves to have a disability? What are we doing in this regard?

Mr. Davitt used the term "de-commute" and I ask him to elaborate on that. What would make this concept more attractive to employees and employers alike?

Dr. Smyth wondered whether tourism and hospitality should be a leaving certificate subject. Is tourism and hospitality, or something very similar to it, not a subject on the leaving certificate applied curriculum? Has it been reviewed to determine how successful it has been? If tourism and hospitality has been successful as a leaving certificate applied subject, could that help to persuade the Department of Education and Skills to put it on the leaving certificate as well? Has there been an increase in uptake in this sector as a result of tourism and hospitality being a leaving certificate applied subject?

I had intended to call Deputy Thomas Byrne as the third speaker in this group, but he has just stepped out of the room. I will call Senator Maria Byrne instead.

I thank the Chairman. I thank the four witnesses for their informative opening statements.

I would like to begin by raising an issue that came up here last week as well. I refer to the disparity in the female take-up of apprenticeships. This is a huge issue because the percentage is small. There was a skills and apprenticeships day in Limerick and the mid-west last week. It was very good to see so many young females coming along. They are certainly receiving more encouragement. How do we get more of them to participate? That is my first question.

It is sometimes the case that there is no incentive for employers to take on people as apprentices. I know that employers pay PRSI and the various fees associated with taking someone on in employment. They provide very good training to people.

Could employers be given some form of tax relief or an incentive to take on apprentices?

I am very aware of the skills shortage in the hospitality sector as I come from that background. While it is great to be able to get hotel managers, finding lower-level staff is a major problem. There was a loosening of the visa criteria for employees in the hospitality sector. Will Dr. Smyth comment on whether more needs to be done?

Last week. I accompanied some hairdressers to meet the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Halligan, to discuss the increase in the VAT rate they face. There is no incentive for them to take on apprentices and train them because they do not benefit from the process. Once the trainee becomes a skilled hairdresser, he or she walks out the door, having finished the training. How does one keep people engaged so that the employer feels they benefit? Employers believe they are investing in training but are losing out at the other end.

Ms Nessa White

Let me respond to the question of what the students are saying. When I took up the post on 1 May, I was interested in and focused on listening to the students. We invited a female apprentice plumber to tell her story at our conference in September. Such was the success, that we have engaged with Kerry Education and Training Board, which produces videos and it will make a video of this apprentice telling her story. I certainly am driven by and focused on the female apprentice. Ms Ailbhe Lacey is an example to all of us about what one can do. She told us about her school days and how she tried out as an air hostess and then came back to working with her Dad as a plumber. She was a cool trendy young girl who made the apprenticeship look cool and trendy and that is one element of what we need to do to change culture and conditioning. The other element on which I am focused is the engagement with parents. We know that the home is where young people are encouraged to do something. I take the point that liaising and informing guidance counsellors is a really key part but we have to focus on the role of the parents as well.

We are all invested in the marketing of apprenticeships. SOLAS and many of the partners are highly focused on this point. It is about hearing what the employers are saying to the effect that there is no return on investment in training apprentices. It is about addressing these issues in communications.

I think about the reason that education and training boards, ETBs, are perceived as different. I think about the Suzuki garage I pass this morning. I heard the story from a female apprentice mechanic who went to an ETB school in Carnew. She wanted to become an apprentice mechanic but she could not get any employer to take her on. The principal of the ETB went from employer to employer until she succeeded. She is now an example for us in Gorey of somebody who has formed the linkage. As ETBs we have that strength.

I am really focused on telling the story of apprenticeships in order that the story goes out to parents and students that an apprenticeship is a viable option. We are focused on doing that.

Mr. Peter Davitt

I will respond to Deputy Naughton's point on blockages. Within the tech sector in particular it is a very complex issue because they are so many stereotypical misnomers. We hear that to have a career in the tech sector, one must have a degree or a master's degree and one must have STEM subjects to even enter into the sector. That is a deterrent for may people, both female and male. For me there is a much bigger issue here. We have an obsession that our children must go to third level education and if one does not take the route of third level, one is a second-class citizen in some respects in terms of accessing training.

From my perspective, a level 6 FET is the forgotten certificate award. A level 6 award is above an honours leaving certificate. It is equivalent to a diploma or an advanced certificate. If one builds a curriculum to that standard with the right content, the demand for those with that qualification across industry is phenomenal. We undertook a number of skills audits because my board is comprised of major tech companies in Ireland. Why are they engaged with FIT? They engage with FIT in terms of accessing skills. We had to go out to ask employers what skills they wanted. In the early days, the employers wanted employees with degrees and masters, but when we were able to show them what could be delivered through a level 5 programme and what could be delivered through a level 6 programme, the scales fell off their eyes to the extent that as the tech sector is buoyant and growing, there are job opportunities for many more than those who perceive themselves as having roles in the tech sector. The interesting thing is there is a growing awareness within the tech sector that unless it diversifies its recruitment pipelines, it will struggle in the future. There is a genuine desire in the tech sector to address the issue of diversity and to increase female participation. We must, however, make it attractive. Whether one if male or female, if one goes the route of an FET qualification, one is seen as an equivalent competent individual as somebody who takes the route of a third level qualification. That is the essence of it. Thereafter, we have to definitely profile role models. We have also to get across to people that the jobs in the tech sector are not just about sitting in front of a computer. The idea of having regular demonstrations of the variety of cohorts that come into the sectors is very important.

We have to get parity of esteem for FET provision. We have won that argument with companies. The companies now want to access the apprentices and we are getting real traction for the tech apprenticeships, but we need to win the argument with young people, learners and the mothers and fathers of Ireland that this is a credible route to a good career for their sons or daughters.

Is a campaign needed?

Mr. Peter Davitt

We need more than a campaign. We need to recognise the different routes of education and learning. I started off as bricklayer. That is where I derive my confidence in the apprenticeship programme. The best way to learn is to learn by doing under the guidance of an expert. That is what apprenticeship ultimately try to deliver. I think we have to address collectively this imbalance of perception of the value of one level of provision as against another provision. We then have to showcase the opportunities. There is an opportunity for example on the new apprenticeship website to profile more careers that can attract a variety of different people into it. There are policy and communication issues and appropriate progression pathways must be created. One point made earlier is that we have to have a much more dynamic career guidance delivery. Let me recount my personal experience. Two years ago, my daughter was in sixth year and sitting the leaving certificate. When I went to the parent-teacher meeting, there was no conversation beyond third level. It was explained how one might get to Trinity College, DIT or DCU but there was no conversation about FET provision or PLCs and there definitely was no conversation around apprenticeships. That issue of parity of esteem must be addressed in modern-day Ireland.

Dr. Phillip Smyth

The leaving certificate is important. However there is another leaving certificate, the leaving certificate applied which is really very good. In every family in Ireland, the leaving certificate is key. It is discussed by all the students coming through, it is a factor in everybody life. Parents are constantly talking to each other about the leaving certificate. It is an intangible institution in all our lives.

One can do all the marketing one likes and a great deal of marketing and targeting must be done but one has to change perception. Were tourism and hospitality a full subject in the leaving certificate, it could take 20 years but gradually, people's perceptions would change. People will start to succeed and get good marks. It could be a subject that everybody is doing because one would get a higher mark.

Tourism and hospitality would become a subject for public discourse at the family level and at every level. The same can roll on to apprenticeships. While I am not an expert on the leaving certificate curriculum, I would like the design of the different subjects for the leaving certificate to emphasise the technical and skills element, like in Switzerland. The leaving certificate is important because it is central to our culture.

Mr. Tony Donohoe

I agree with everything that has been said and I do not propose to labour the point about the cultural shift that is required.

There are a couple of issues about female participation. We have occupational segregation. Apprenticeship is just a way of learning. The low female participation rate reflects the trades where apprenticeships already exist, and that is why the new apprenticeship project is so important. The most successful new apprenticeship so far is the insurance apprenticeship from the institute, in which 60% of the apprentices are female. The second most successful apprenticeship is the one run by Accounting Technicians Ireland, in which 60% of the apprentices are female. The bio-pharma sector of IBEC launched a laboratory technician apprenticeship two weeks ago. Again, females are outnumbering males on it. As occupations evolve, we will see more female participation.

There is a specific issue around the involvement of girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, subjects. The issue has been well-covered by previous speakers in terms of providing role models and that kind of thing.

I want to address the issues raised by Senator Byrne about incentives for companies, particularly given that apprentices might leave. There is an old saying about whether employers can afford to invest in upskilling, and my response to that is whether they can afford not to. They have to do this. We have a great window of opportunity now because companies are screaming out, as it were, for skills across a whole range of occupations. This would have been a much more difficult conversation five or six years ago. Especially with small firms, the approach tends to be one of build it and they will come, which does not happen. The average small firm only thinks about where the business opportunities and the business threats are. Such firms do not think of skills conceptually. They have business challenges. There is a missing piece in the jigsaw in terms of demonstrating how upskilling more generally but specifically bringing in apprentices or providing opportunities for trainees could bring a business dividend. Enterprise Ireland has one or two tools that it is running through the regional skills fora. That initiative requires a very serious ramping up. It is a skills needs analysis service.

The new SOLAS document, entitled Review of pathways to participation in apprenticeship, discusses a new portal where employers can advertise their apprenticeships. My only question is why it has taken five years for that to be there. That would be a basic requirement. People like Further Education and Training, FET, or the various consortia are marketing their apprenticeships, but we need a place where if a company is prepared to offer an apprenticeship, it can offer it online and young people and their families can access this and apply online. It is a fairly basic requirement.

In terms of support for costs, I do not think tax relief, due to the complexity of it, is necessarily the way to go. Our ask on this is far more modest. It is that the apprentices’ off-the-job wages, when they are training in a college, and any associated travel costs would be picked up by the State through the National Training Fund. That is what happens with every other type of apprenticeship. We have met some resistance, again particularly from small firms who just see this as a cost in a way that maybe some of the bigger companies do not. Even that adjustment would make a lot of difference.

Does Deputy Martin seek a clarification?

Yes. My questions were not answered.

I want to ask a question.

In response to Dr. Smyth, I was not questioning tourism and hospitality being placed on the leaving certificate. I was wondering, given that it is on the leaving certificate applied, whether it has been successful and if that could be used to strengthen the argument to roll it out to the leaving certificate. I am in agreement with him.

Dr. Phillip Smyth

It is. We offer places outside of the traditional CAO route. People do come in, having scored very highly in all subjects in the leaving certificate applied, including tourism. It is a very good route, and those people go on to get degrees and so on. It is a good way of going.

Ms White wants to come in on the questions on retrofit and all of that.

Ms Nessa White

Yes. I had taken note that I had not answered Deputy Martin’s questions. Last Tuesday was very good evidence of why going out to meet people in the ETBs is very good. I was invited to a gathering of staff in Waterford and Wexford Education Training Board, and it was on their strategic plan. I learned about the nearly zero energy building, NZEB, initiative and the centre of excellence approach. That is at the final stage of development.

The learning that we can share across the sector is where ETBI comes in. That is something we have in our structures. Once a month we have directors’ meetings where the director of FET, who is leading on that initiative, will share that learning or project with the other 15 directors of ETBs. That is certainly something that will be focused on. There is no policy in place as yet in that area - not a national policy - but it is certainly something that is on the agenda.

The other initiative we are engaged in is where we are working with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, on the retrofitting of schools. The evidence that we will get from that will inform training that will be developed by ETBs on areas like retrofit. Sometimes a gap exists because something does not fit into a niche programme. What we learn from our engagement with the SEAI on the retrofit of post-primary schools will inform training into the future.

Does the ETBI intend to roll out a policy?

Ms Nessa White


The ETBs have a crucial role to play in the move towards a green economy.

Ms Nessa White

Absolutely, and my learning from the engagement with the SEAI was how challenging the targets are for us to meet in our post-primary schools. Meeting those needs by developing training that will address the matter is something that we will include in the policy.

I welcome all of the witnesses to the meeting. Most of the questions have been asked and answered. The big thing that is coming across is the importance of both awareness and the status of doing an apprenticeship as opposed to higher education etc.

All of us in the room were at an event this morning which was a photograph of past and present women Members of the Oireachtas. It is essentially about visual role models, and Ms White talked about the young plumber. Dr. Smyth talked about the fact that there are a lot of women in the new apprenticeships, but we very much need to see them. There is the Generation Apprenticeship campaign around awareness and so on. I am interested in whether the witnesses have any other ideas on how that awareness can be raised because that should be a central point in our report. It came up so much last week and it is coming up so much again this week. Mr. Davitt talked about the importance of awareness for young people and their parents and Dr. Smyth talked about awareness for employers as well, so we need to see this on both sides. My general question is around what we can do in this regard.

The other issue related to that is about status. We talked last week about school league tables, the newspapers that publish league tables and that they say a certain school is the most wonderful school in the world because 100% of students went on to higher education. I spoke to somebody, who was at the committee last week, about the fact that some efforts are being made to get the newspapers concerned to broaden what they measure and to include apprenticeships.

Will IBEC join the campaign to get a broader definition? I am sure it has a powerful influence on the media, etc. This takes in the delegates in their various roles and us as a committee. As long as a school gets a top grade because it sends everyone to college, it will not send anyone to take up an apprenticeship and people may look down on someone who wants to do so. It is a really big barrier in getting parity of esteem. Did Dr. Smyth say entry to colleges connected to the hospitality sector was declining? Perhaps I misunderstood him. Will he clarify the matter as the hospitality sector is across the regions?

I assume Deputy Thomas Byrne is coming back at some point, but I have a few general questions and one or two specific queries.

We almost have full employment. Is it having a negative impact in attracting prospective students to apprenticeships and traineeships?

Going back to the idea of parity of esteem, if apprenticeships and traineeships were properly promoted - we all agree that this absolutely must happen - and expanded to include level 8 and above, would it become a more viable route, particularly for students who want to get a degree? They may not be in a financial position to go to college, but if they could find a pathway, it could really work.

Mr. Davitt established FIT Limited, but what major changes has he seen since 1999 in the employment sector? He has stated he has adopted the goal of achieving an annual intake of 1,000 information and communications technology apprentices by 2021, but how close is he to meeting that target? Are there particular issues or challenges he is coming across or in respect of which he would like to see reforms?

Mr. Donohoe mentioned legislation, an issue about which we also spoke briefly last week. Would consolidation or an updating of the Acts governing the apprenticeship schemes make the process easier and a more attractive option, particularly for employers? We are trying to attract young people into apprenticeships, but we are also trying to attract employers. That is a key point. Following possible changes to the relevant legislation, would a stand-alone agency be warranted for apprenticeships and trainee schemes?

Dr. Smyth has said if a Shannon College of Hotel Management graduate wants to be a manager in Switzerland, he or she must go back to the beginning of the apprenticeship system, despite having one of the best qualifications in the world. The college is absolutely renowned. Will the introduction of the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018 which is aimed at facilitating the introduction of the international education mark help in that regard? It could lead to a position where qualifications acquired here would be recognised internationally. We certainly see it as something that would help.

I mentioned earlier that we had met the Irish participants in the WorldSkills finals last year and were very impressed. When we met the group, we advocated that Ireland should hold the event. What advantages would there be for the hospitality sector if that were to come about?

There was mention in the submissions of having special sections dealing with apprenticeships in transition year in secondary school. It is absolutely key that it happen in the transition year programme, as most students have at least three periods of work experience. Perhaps we might get to a position where one of them would cover something in this sector.

I am conscious that education and training boards, ETBs, do a lot of work in this area. Mr. Davitt gave as examples Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board and Intel, which was great. I am sure there are other such partnerships which could be rolled out.

Does Ms White think there is enough access to state-of-the-art training facilities and equipment to support learning? Is anybody aware of really good practices abroad? Part of what the committee wants to do is considering practices abroad. There is a place outside Amsterdam where something like a small village has been set up and everything is based on apprenticeships. People can stay in a hotel and have food. Others can bring in pieces of equipment that can be worked on, etc. It is a really good model in attracting people and showcasing the process.

What supports are required by ETBs to enable them to play a more effective role in the promotion of apprenticeships and traineeships? What incentives could be suggested to encourage greater participation by employers? Again, it is about providing incentives and supports for employers.

Does Senator Gallagher have questions?

We can get the answers to your questions first.

This is the last round of questioning.

I am okay. I am happy with what has been covered.

That is fine.

Mr. Peter Davitt

I will start with the question about changes since 1999 in our experience of the technological sector. I will refer to the "head" and the "heart". FIT's DNA is creating second chance opportunities - reskilling - in order that people can secure jobs in the technological sector. In the early days, from 1999 to the early 2000s, companies engaged with FIT probably more from the perspective of corporate social responsibility. They might have thought about getting one or two candidates through the process. In the period since of almost 20 years we have seen a total transformation and are now a talent acquisition pipeline for the technological sector in Ireland. We are on the radar for most companies as part of their recruitment initiatives and strategies. We have demonstrated the currency and calibre of people who can be delivered by further education and training to levels 5 and 6. Ultimately, companies are not preoccupied with credentials but rather competencies. They want people to have the skills for the job in question. Most industry certification that is in demand in companies is equivalent to level 6. We have won that argument, but, going back to my earlier point, we must win it with the broader population. They must see it as a credible and equal route to a professional career. That is a fundamental change.

The Chairman asked if full employment had an impact, but in our recruitment processes we do not currently see it as a problem for a variety of reasons. In some third level tech courses there is a drop-out rate of up to 70%. There is a large cohort of people who, for one reason or another, cannot progress or access the route to third level education. They are hungry for an alternative route. When we look at the cohort currently in apprenticeship programmes, ages range from those in their early 20s to the middle of their 30s and 40s. People have worked in the industry or are reskilling or upskilling. They may have participated in third level education for a period, but, for one reason or another, they were unable to continue. Some people already have degrees. Others are those who I call "tech enthusiasts". Another cohort comprises foreign nationals who have skills in this area but which are not necessarily recognised.

We have a rich cohort of people from which to draw, but there is a challenge in that we do not want to put anybody forward for an apprenticeship programme if he or she will not be successful. We must do a lot of assessing and screening in advance. We mentioned some of the fundamental problems. There are issues related to promotion and administrative challenges which slow the process. The issue of funding has still not been resolved for apprenticeships this year or next year. We are committed to delivering 1,000 tech apprenticeships by 2021; it is a decision of the board of FIT and we believe we can deliver on it. We hope to have 250 up and running by March next year and a further 400 by December next year. If our needs are addressed, it is a realistic goal.

We also have engagement from the Civil Service, which is looking at this as a credible recruitment stream for its needs.

Mr. Tony Donohoe

I will comment in the first instance on Deputy Jan O'Sullivan's comments on the school league tables. I agree with her and her suggestion is worth pursuing. They are such a crude measure of achievement and I am not simply talking about it in terms of apprenticeships. There are many aspects to the education experience and the development of the young person that go well beyond the CAO points he or she achieves. No metric is coming to mind at the moment, but I definitely think it is worth pursuing as an idea.

We have spoken about status a number of times today. If some of the companies on Mr. Davitt's board, which are the top global companies in the world, are prepared to offer apprenticeships, those apprenticeships will have status. These companies have serious brand power and they believe it is the thing to do. In the pharmaceutical sector we have seen some household names taking on apprentices. However, other things also need to happen, including in the area of marketing. We can only do so much, but if we target the companies and get them to offer apprenticeships, it would be a good use of time and resources.

I do not believe full employment will have a serious adverse impact. The registrations for traditional apprenticeships, predominately in the construction sector, are ahead of target. I noticed today that the CSO figures show a 3% increase in overall employment from quarter 3 of 2017 to quarter 3 of this year. Most of those jobs were in the construction sector and they are obviously needed. That industry is moving in the right direction. Our main blockage is in the area of new apprenticeships, which is probably not a surprise because the construction sector, for the past 40 or 50 years, has been using apprenticeships. They are part of its culture and way of doing business. We are not breaking new ground in that area, whereas we are with the new apprenticeships.

On the consolidation of the legislation and the idea of a stand-alone agency, it must be said that there have been process delays in approving and rolling out these apprenticeships. When the first call was made in 2015 many companies expressed enthusiasm and there was energy around the proposal. Three years down the line, some of these companies are still waiting. In terms of amendments to the legislation, as I said, it is not about the contracts of apprenticeship in terms of protections for the apprentice and the responsibilities of employers. That is fine and I would not change a word of that. It is about registering companies and improving industrial sectors. The people in the sector have pushed this to its boundary. For example, there is a requirement that the SOLAS board approve a new industrial sector. When it was asked to do so, it put the approval through in jig time. While this requirement has not been an impediment, it should not be in place.

Last week, the committee heard the chair of a stand-alone agency called Skillnet talk about what it is doing in terms of upskilling. It is a different product because Skillnet deals with 15,000 companies and has 50,000 employees taking part in its programmes. Many of them are shorter programmes or interventions, but it has to meet its metrics. It is a very efficient system. It could be wrapped into an existing agency or a separate agency could be created. I am always loath to suggest the creation of another quango, but we probably need a dedicated service for this.

Apprenticeships are positioned along the fault line of further education and higher education. We still have an education system that operates in a silo. We talk about progression and in reality there is some progression. While we are getting better, apprenticeships still tend to travel on a parallel track. The advanced apprenticeships are funded by the HEA, while SOLAS is funding apprenticeships up to level 6. There are disconnections there.

There is a significant amount of money available for apprenticeships. This year, some €120 million has been allocated to them, of which, incidentally, only €13 million is for the new apprenticeships we spent such a long time discussing. I would prefer to see a single agency managing all of that and promoting apprenticeships. This was alluded to in the original apprenticeship review group, which spoke about plural arrangements. We are probably approaching the time when such an agency has to be set up.

In terms of advanced apprenticeships, I am often accused of aiding the capture of apprenticeships by higher education because I talk so much about advanced apprenticeships and the requirement for degree apprenticeships and master's apprenticeships. We are even developing a PhD apprenticeship at the moment. I do not believe there will be huge number of those apprenticeships on offer, but the fact that they exist sends out an important message. I do not think that will be the educational experience for everybody, but the progression opportunity has to be provided. That is how we address the issue of status. A person starting at a level 5 or level 6 may not want to go to degree or master's level, but the fact that the progression route is available addresses much of the status challenge we have.

Dr. Phillip Smyth

On Deputy Jan O'Sullivan's questions, within the CAO system there has been a decline in demand for levels 6, 7 and 8 qualifications. This includes a decline in applicants for hospitality related courses in general across the institutes of technology and the university sector. That has been the case for the Shannon College of Hotel Management and NUI Galway, and it has transferred through to the number of students coming to our colleges. In Shannon we were reasonably well protected because our numbers had been very high and we still have the interview process. It is also the case that many of our applicants have listed our college as a first, second or third preference, so many of them would hold. I have spoken to some of the people in the training centres in the last couple of weeks who have found it more difficult to join the excellent courses on offer. Anecdotally, there has been chat in the institute of technology about closing particular programmes because not enough people are applying for them. That is just in the area of hospitality.

The educational mark is of major benefit to our college in terms of our international marketing. In Switzerland it is a philosophical issue. If one of our students goes back to work in a hotel in Switzerland, perhaps for personal reasons, he or she would find it extremely difficult to progress on the management side because the Swiss do not believe in moving people very quickly through companies. They want the skills of the student to be deeply embedded. They also do not want to see their own apprentices being outstripped by people who have not experienced the same basic training. They do not have a problem with that. In my main submission I said that at a meeting with Swiss business people they will often boast about the actual skills they still possess. It could be in IT, woodwork or another area but they still hold that in high regard, both for themselves and for other people.

On WorldSkills, from an employment and apprenticeship point of view, having the WorldSkills come to Ireland would be like hosting the World Cup. There would be a constant, protracted competition for eight or nine days, featuring 60 different skills. Every conceivable kind of skill would be featured.

Gold medals would be awarded and there would be constant razzmatazz. Something like that would have an impact on young people, particularly if we used it properly, projected it through the media and so on.

Regarding transition year, our university has been providing taster days in all programmes for a while. During study week when our lecturers are not teaching, we invite schools to bring in groups of transition year students and give them a taste of the programme - a little time in the kitchen, a little time in the restaurant. We also given them an overall feel of the business subjects, including accounting and economics. There might be a fun element with a little present when they go away and so on. We do all of that just to give them something else to consider.

Regarding schools liaison officers, we had become successful in international recruitment by the start of the boom in 2003 or 2004, but all of a sudden, our Irish numbers started to decline. After considering the issue a great deal, we went with the idea of schools liaison officers. We have always used our own graduates, young people who have worked in the industry. This initiative has been immensely successful. Coming from the hospitality sector, it was sometimes difficult to get into schools that were at the top of the league tables, but when we actually got in, our schools liaison officers did a good job and motivated people, the schools started inviting us back and we started developing relationships with them. If the overall education and training board, ETB, programme for developing apprenticeships can go into schools and use qualified apprentices, people at different stages who can talk about their experiences, then young people will relate.

Ms Nessa White

Regarding Deputy O'Sullivan's questions and comments, it is important to acknowledge and welcome the support that the committee intends to provide in terms of the league tables. As the Deputy will be aware from her time in the Department, this is something that we have been grappling with for a long time, as it does not reflect the breadth of what we do. As Mr. Donohoe stated, this is about education options and is much broader than just going to college. The sector has been challenging the content and the formula that have been used for a long time.

We have discussed the young females issue at length and I agree with the comments. It is good to have sessions like this one where I can leave with actions for the ETBI to pursue alone or in collaboration with partners. For example, Dr. Smyth mentioned something on which I had just written a note, namely, the transition year programme. Why can we not pursue that in our almost 300 schools? It is an action that we could undertake without waiting for anyone else. That is a positive element that I can take from today. At the six-month point in the job, it is always good to have ideas to focus on for the next year.

On the Chair's questions, ETBs have been fully supported in providing whatever is required to ensure state-of-the-art training facilities. Sometimes, challenges are encountered in the form of planning permission for change of use if the premises are found. In the main, however, that has not been a difficulty. Once a case has been made within the appropriate parameters, agreement has been forthcoming. Our engagement with SOLAS in that regard has been positive.

In terms of the supports that ETBs need, it is probably timely to revert to some of the points that we made at the outset. The role of authorised officers is crucial to the continuing and future expansion of the apprenticeship model. In talking to colleagues on the panel, delays can arise with that role. If the expansion continues at the rate we want, we need the number of authorised officers to grow as well. ETBs can face challenges where they require experts to deliver their programmes. Be it during the good times or bad, if people can be employed in their trades or areas of expertise, attracting and retaining suitably qualified staff can be a challenge for us in light of the salary scales.

The Chair asked about employer incentives. It is important to highlight the current supports and incentives that we provide when working with employers. They may not always be monetary. For example, we have a centralised unit that provides support for the assessment and development of curricula and we have a mentored training initiative whereby we liaise with employers. All of this is new for the post-2016 programmes. We are continuing to work and build on these initiatives. We have received some positive feedback, learned from it and amended and adapted our approach.

Strategic partnerships and changing the apprenticeship model's culture and conditioning have been mentioned. Through our collaboration with the Technological Higher Education Association, THEA, which appeared before the committee last week, on those strategic high-level initiatives, we can make this a pathway for people to choose. Anything is possible right up to PhD level. The partners in the sector are open to considering these initiatives. As Mr. Donohoe stated, bodies sometimes want to mind their own patches and keep what they have, but this is bigger than all of that now and there is a requirement for us to take a wider view.

I thank Ms White. Does Deputy Byrne or Senator Gallagher wish to comment?

I just wanted to thank the witnesses. We are currently examining policy proposals and the witnesses have provided a great deal of information, so I do not need to ask questions. The issue of legislation has been raised at this session and our previous sessions. It is important.

I compliment the witnesses who have appeared before us today and at our previous meeting on their contributions, which have been thought provoking. We all agree that there is a great deal of work to be done in this area. It is vital that we do it sooner rather than later. We must take all of the points that have been made today and previously and put them together.

I thank the witnesses for attending and sending us their submissions and opening statements beforehand. Listening to all of them has been inspiring. As legislators with an interest in this area, we are conscious of the level of work that is required. We will take the opportunity to consider the witnesses' recommendations. I thank them for making those, as it is good to get practical suggestions. We will have an opportunity to present to the Minister and the Department. We may also have an opportunity to initiate a debate in the Dáil Chamber.

I thank the witnesses for their time, contributions and insights. They are the experts whereas we are just learning, trying to put a framework around what is required and trying to make recommendations.

The joint committee adjourned at 5.20 p.m. sine die.